Saying something over and over again doesn’t make it true

I wrote about Oakland’s relative police staffing last fall, but I think now might be a good time to revisit those numbers, since demand for more officers seems to be reaching a fever pitch lately.

I’m hearing more and more often that Oakland has half the police force of most American cities. At-large Council candidate Charles Pine has spent the last several years pushing this sound bite, and hey – it seems to have worked. If you visit his ORPN website, you can see a nice list comparing Oakland’s police staffing per 10,000 residents to that of other large cities. Oakland is, of course, at the bottom of the list.

This is…let’s just say misleading. Oakland’s officer to resident ratio is dead last only if you don’t list any of the cities that have fewer police per capita than Oakland. But the truth is that if we were ever able to fully staff our department, we’d be roughly in the middle, ranked 34th out of the 60 largest cities in the US.

Let’s look at the reality of where we stand compared to other cities. If you want more detail, you can download all the data in xls format here:

Now, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have more police. As I noted previously, our officer to resident ratio is normal for low-crime cities, and far below what is normal for high-crime cities.

There are obviously benefits to adding officers to the force. More patrol officers would hopefully mean that officers wouldn’t have to spend almost all their time responding for calls for service, and could spend more time patrolling neighborhoods. Or maybe it would just mean that the department could respond to calls for service in a reasonable time frame. More investigators might mean that we aren’t stuck with 11 investigators responsible for covering 127 homicides (compare that to 12 officers to investigate 36 homicides in San Jose).

But the problems with the police department go way beyond staffing. As commenters here note frequently, morale is low. The force is young. Chief Tucker is uninspiring and disorganized, and clearly overmatched in his position. The department does not take advantage of available technologies to assist with smarter and more efficient policing, the way other departments around the country have. Equipment is both in short supply and outdated.

My point is – yes, we should add officers (although we should figure out how to pay for them first). But people need to realize that staffing levels are only a small part of the problems with OPD, and stop behaving as if an extra 100, 300, or even 500 officers is some sort of magic solution to all our problems. If we added another 300 officers tomorrow, there is absolutely no guarantee that we would see a significant drop in crime. If we’re looking for immediate results, I would rather see us focus whatever funds we can find on getting the police the equipment they need to do their jobs properly, and on investing in a CompStat-like system that can track crimes for more efficient policing.

30 thoughts on “Saying something over and over again doesn’t make it true

  1. Charles Pine

    Your spreadsheet shows 34 million people live in cities with more police per 10,000 residents, 16 million in cities with fewer police per 10,000 residents. It also shows that among your 60 cities, Oakland ranks sixth in violent crimes per 10,000 residents. I stand by the statement that most major cities have twice the police that Oakland has.

    Your statement, “If we added another 300 officers tomorrow, there is absolutely no guarantee that we would see a significant drop in crime,” is breath-taking in its absence of reality. Although no one is talking about a guarantee (there are none in human affairs), on several occasions when OPD has put nearly the entire force on mandatory overtime for a particular night, like New Year’s Eve 15 months ago, the city was peaceful. See http://www.orpn.org/NewYrs2007.htm

    Your policy suggestions are good ones, but City Hall and OPD management have juggled the inadequate force every which way, and it’s all been shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. The key link, the most important thing we can do to achieve the relative safety of an average American city, is get at least 1,100 officers. And as we have discussed elsewhere, it can be done.

    Oakland voters can go with the failures of the current city council by choosing another career politician in their typical mold, or they can elect a candidate who will give top priority to peaceful neighborhoods.

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    Charles Pine -

    The chart actually shows that Oakland ranks fourth in violent crimes per 10,000 residents, not 6th.

    I don’t understand how you can conclude that “most major cities have twice the police that Oakland has.” It’s patently untrue. The only cities in the US that have twice or more police per capita than Oakland are St. Louis, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington D.C. Out of 60 cities over 300k.

    But you raise a good point about the appropriateness of comparing similar sized cities. The nation’s largest cities, like New York and Chicago, have significantly higher officer to resident ratios than smaller cities. If we restrict the sample to more mid-sized cities, say those with between 300,000 and 600,000 residents, Oakland still shows up close to the middle, at number 19 out of 36.

    There is no evidence to support the simplistic notion that we can reduce our crime rate by simply adding officers. Looking at other cities, it is clear that there is more to crime reduction than having a large police force. The country’s most violent cities have twice the number of officers per capita as Oakland, but this has not kept crime down.

    You say “it can be done,” but, as I pointed out in the last post, you have never presented a plan for actually doing it. Until you can articulate an actual plan detailing how you think we can recruit these extra 300 officers and how you plan to pay for them, I can’t take that statement seriously.

  3. Max Allstadt

    I’m almost at the point where I think we might want to add officers first, and figure out what other budget items to gouge in order to pay for them. Or who’s taxes to raise. Or what fees to instate.

    I don’t know if it’s legal, but we ought to consider for instance, tripling parking tickets for any vehicle registered in piedmont. They make more than three times as much as we do. Their homes are worth more than three times as much, so even if we triple their tickets, we’re still effectively dealing with a regressive tax regime.

    What’s more, there has to be more waste and overspending that we can find in this city other than excessive salaries.

    Charles is right. More cops equals less crime. It worked in NYC in the 90s. But it has to happen in conjunction with other forces. Growth, for one. And we have to stop “Stop Snitchin”. While we’re talking about “consent to search”, we need to get the mayor to ask parents to throw out any “Stop Snitchin” paraphenalia. We need the DA to make a point of throwing the book and anyone who makes any kind of “stop snitchin” statement in an official situation. It’s incitement to commit perjury and obstruction of justice, it isn’t free speech.

  4. V Smoothe Post author

    Can someone point me to any evidence that more police equals less crime? Is that true for St. Louis, who have 40.6 officers per 10,000 residents and 248 violent crimes per 10,000 residents? What about for Detroit, with 29.2 officers and 242 violent crimes? Baltimore, with 46.6 officers and 170 crimes? Philadeplhia, with 45.5 officers and 156 crimes? Was it true for Oakland in the late 1990s, when we had significantly less crime than we do now, and fewer officers?

    Bill Bratton dramatically reduced crime in New York by using utilizing resources more efficiently and using technology to its full advantage. We should do the same.

  5. Max Allstadt

    You’re right about Bratton. Broken Windows policing works. In Oakland, that sort of method might well be attacked as oppressive. But V, also about NYC. Look at the chart you just posted. They’re fifth in the nation. What’s really nuts about NYC cops is this: http://www.nypd2.org/html/recruit/salary.html
    I posted it on another thread, but it’s worth mentioning here. ConcernedOaklandFF keeps talking about morale being a huge recruiting tool. Nowhere is it more evident than in NYC. NYC cops, according to that link, are starting at 25k, and don’t get to 60k (less than starting in oakland) for 5 years. There’s still a line out the door. Why? I think it’s morale.

  6. josh abrams

    The problem is – you can’t just look at static ‘city y has x officers and z crime rate’ numbers… the question isn’t “what about Detroit” with 29.2 officers per 10k residents. The question is what would happen to Detroit’s crime rate if you halved or doubled its PD staffing.

    That is a question that I don’t think anyone here (or perhaps anywhere) can give a real answer to… Police are reactive, not proactive, except for the criminals who act with impunity because they know there is little chance of being arrested/found out. But how many criminals would still commit crimes if they knew there was a high chance of them being caught? To answer these questions is a huge task – are there any other major urban cities who have seen large spikes or declines in their police staffing in the last 20 years or so?

  7. V Smoothe Post author

    Max –

    You may be interested in the cost of living adjusted police compensation comparison for 200 US cities posted here.

    In any case, I’ve never said here, or anywhere else, that I don’t think we should add officers to the force. I’ve simply pointed out that if we’re serious about crime reduction, we need to do more than add staff. A broken and poorly run department is a broken and poorly run department whether it has 700 officers, 1100 officers, or 1600 officers. I believe that in addition to identifying resources for additional police hiring, we should be looking at more cost-efficient methods to increase the effectiveness of our police force, such as providing our officers with adequate equipment and using modern crime tracking technologies that have proved useful in other cities.

  8. Max Allstadt

    Tech is nice. I’m even pro surveillance camera, which this city totally rejected, without even trying to adjust the measure. But frankly institutionalized secrecy it what kills any organization. Until we’re pay for an evaluation of the integrity of OPD’s management policies and unofficial power structure, we’re going to get nowhere. Ultimately, codifying means of creating and enforcing efficiency and integrity are the only way to make an institution work. Give men power without accountability, and you’ll always make a mess.

    Are you telling me that if we had 50% more cops, we would see no increase in response time? I just don’t get how that outcome would be possible. More cops=more cops available to deal with calls. How does that equation not work?

  9. James H. Robinson

    I’m new to Oakland so please bear with me. Why is morale so low in the OPD? Is it the mayor? Is it the police chief? Oakland under Dellums reminds me of Washington, DC when Marion Berry was mayor.

    Maybe Oakland’s problems won’t change until the demographics change, but those demographics won’t change until the perception of crime decreases along with the actual decrease. At least with more police officers who are also more visible, people will perceive an increase in safety. I saw this happen in Alexandria, VA when police were seen in pre-gentrifying neighborhoods in police cars, on bicycles and on foot.

  10. Max Allstadt

    Woah. Dellums may be invisible and unengaged, but he ain’t smoking crack with hookers in a motel 6.

    I also don’t think gentrification is the only route to peace. I’m still waiting for ConcernedOaklandFF to chime in on morale in more detail. That said, if I was a cop and I had seen the Chauncey Bailey murder investigation from the inside, I would probably be even more disgusted that with what I’ve seen from the outside.

  11. James H. Robinson

    Crack aside, Mayors Barry and Dellums are from the same generation. And to some extent, they were elected (and in Barry’s case, re-elected AFTER serving time for crack) based on what they did back in the Civil Rights era instead of what they were doing (or not doing) more recently. In addition, it seems like both of them are much better at going out and making speeches than sitting at a desk and doing the executive work of a mayor.

    Of course, demographics are the difference. Marion Barry’s core constituents comprised the majority of DC, while Dellums’ is a shrinking minority of Oakland.

    Gentrification isn’t the only route to peace, but it can provide the tax money that can help establish peace. I think that is especially true of Oakland, which relies heavily on transfer taxes and other homebuyer-based taxes.

  12. V Smoothe Post author

    Max –

    I said explicitly in the post that adding officers to the force would likely result in better response times. That’s one of the reasons that high crime cities like Detroit, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Philadelphia have so many more officers than low crime cities – they have more calls to respond to and more incidents to investigate.

    I’m concerned foremost with crime reduction and fiscal responsibility. It is not fiscally responsible to authorize a significant increase in officers without finding a way to pay for them first. There is no guarantee that we will be able to fill those positions, nor is there any guarantee that simply adding officers will reduce crime. We paid for a evaluation of the Police Department’s operational and structural issues (PDF!), but Chief Tucker and Mayor Dellums appear to be completely uninterested in implementing its recommendations.

    As for morale, I’m sure there are many factors in the department’s morale problems, including uninspiring leadership from Chief Tucker. There is also the issue of equipment. Currently, many PSOs have to share cars, forcing them to spend half of their time outside of the beat they’re assigned to. Some have to share a single computer with as many as seven other officers. If we want our officers to perform, we have to give them adequate tools to do their jobs properly.

  13. RDC

    “If we want our officers to perform, we have to give them adequate tools to do their jobs properly.” – V Smoothe

    Couldn’t agree more. Morale doesn’t exactly soar when the cops are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Why should a cop working a double shift, manning a patrol car solo, stop and tell anyone to stop what they are doing? The car is much safer than taking on someone who has little to no respect for you. If the cops can’t just do routine patrols and make routine stops out of the fear that if they do have to make an arrest they will have to take a number to get in line for a computer back at the station? Police work generates paper work and if you are working solo, which seems almost the norm due to the low staffing levels, you have no one to share the load with.

    Where do people think these cops are going to come from? Recruit from what base of candidates? All you ever hear about is how Oakland is unsafe, the politicians don’t give a damn, and how much BS you have to go through. Couple that with the high cost of living, where are you going to get people? Most cops in the Bay Area aren’t going to leave their nice safe places to deal with the ridiculousness of Oakland.

    People have no fear of the police in this city and they should.

  14. ConcernedOakFF

    RDC is right on.

    People do not realize the amount of paperwork that the police deal with. The reason that they do not arrest people for prostitution, drunk in public, loitering, graffiti etc is that each offense can be 1-2 hours of paperwork.

    Let alone if they actually take someone into custody, WHICH THEY HAVE TO GET PERMISSION FROM A SARGENT TO DO!!!!!

    If they do take someone to jail, it can take 5-6 hours, basically taking a car off the street for the whole rest of the shift, mainly due to the fact that since the brilliant city closed down the city jail, they have to transport to Santa Rita in Dublin.

    If they have to medically clear them first? Forget it.

    Highly efficient isn’t it??

    Not so good on the morale either.

  15. James H. Robinson

    I wonder if OPD can use the recession to their advantage. People might be willing to take the risk of being a cop for the sake of job security. How long to you have to work for OPD before you can retire?

  16. Max Allstadt

    FF, that is royally messed up. I wish someone would do an expose on all of that and more. Not that it’ll do much good. Why the hell would it take that much paperwork?

    Also, FF, I would REALLY REALLY appreciate it if you could get a cop friend of yours to start reading and posting here sometimes.

  17. James H. Robinson

    This is depressing! Why did I buy a home in Oakland? Why is Oakland’s population increasing?

  18. ConcernedOakFF

    Max –

    The last thing that most of them would like to do is sit down and type more….too much like work!

    I will ask them, but I doubt it….

  19. V Smoothe Post author

    I oppose reopening the city jail. Other cities have found alternative methods of transporting and booking prisoners that do not involve removing officers from service for hours at a time, like creating special prisoner transfer units that are not staffed with fully sworn officers. There is no reason we can’t explore an approach like this in Oakland. But there is little interest within City Hall in addressing the issue. I’ve already complained plenty today about the lack of initiative from our Chief.

  20. Max Allstadt

    FF-
    Point well taken. Then again, I’ve talked to a few at length, and they really do have something to say about all of this if you get them going. Maybe a union guy? Anyway, yeah. Point taken.

    V- why did the jail close? what’s it being used for now? can I shoot my women’s prison movie in it if I call the right people?

  21. V Smoothe Post author

    OMG, getting into a fight about the city jail was so not on my list of things to do today. The short story is that we closed the jail to solve a budget shortfall and, as usual, did not adequately consider the ramifications of the decision beforehand. Now we have fully sworn officers wasting hours driving to Santa Rita even though the County has a perfectly good detention facility right next door. Yet another area where Alameda County fails Oakland. I’ll post about the jail saga soon. If nothing else, it will be a guaranteed comment generator.

  22. ConcernedOakFF

    The city jail was also closed due to “concerns” about earthquake survivability.

    V -

    The jail was not staffed by officers, it was staffed by 75 corrections officers that were fired when the city gave up the jail.

    They had people in place within that infrastructure to do transports.

  23. Californio

    Did anyone notice this, buried inside the 4/10/08 Inside Bay Area report on Marcus Johnson’s 1075 OPD cops petition? How much is this new “Deputy Chief of Staff” getting paid, at a time when we’re having trouble implementing Measure Y? Maybe Charles Pine and Marcus Johnson are right: the resources are there, it’s the political will that’s lacking.

    (Start clip)

    When Dellums added a new deputy chief of staff last month, he did so in typical Dellums fashion _ quietly.

    The mayor made no announcement about it, but Leslie Littleton joined his staff March 10. Prior to that, she had worked as a district director for Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, for about a year.

    Asked what her duties would be Rose said “to support the mayor and chief of staff on day-to-day operations in the Mayor’s Office.”

    Rose said there was no particular reason why Dellums didn’t publicize the hiring when it happened.

    “Leslie’s been out in the community talking to community organizations, talking to residents of Oakland and introducing herself proactively,” Rose said. “There’s no decision not to send anything out.”

    (End clip)

    Out in the community talking to community organizations? Fine, but not on my dime.

  24. V Smoothe Post author

    The closure of the city jail returned 5 sworn officers to front-line police work and eliminated 89 civilian positions. Some of those employees moved into other jobs within the City, some did not.

  25. James H. Robinson

    Unfortunately, the day of the factories in America, let alone the expensive Bay area, is coming to a close. We need to accept that, just like we accepted the fact that the farming age ended. The forefathers of the current Oakland black community understood this implicitly. They journeyed here from the plantations of the South, they adapted. How can we help Oakland adapt? I don’t think we can do it by attempting to bring back yesterday. Instead, we need to draw new businesses to Oakland. For example, why is Pixar in Emeryville and not Oakland? Why are so many biotech companies in Emeryville and South San Francisco instead of Oakland? One big answer: CRIME. Businesses will not see Oakland as a safe place to do business unless they see a bigger police presence. In fact, last week’s East Bay Business Times discussed this. Even small, entrepreneurial businesses that are already in Oakland are voicing this opinion. We need more police on the streets and drastic measures might be necessary to make it happen.

  26. brell

    James, good point. Sadly we have all these whiny white liberals saying “no police state” and other bullsh**. And most of those want Brunner and Tucker to stay in power.

    As for why no political will… SOMEONE must be benefitting from all this crime. Otherwise, it wouldn’t happen.

    Who’s benefitting?

    * real estate speculators/developers: lower cost land purchasing
    * local warlords, aka gang/ethnic mafia leadership: drug dealing shot callers
    * whoever runs and operates prison systems around the US — many CA inmates get shipped to private, for-profit, corporate prisons out of state in small towns which formerly had FACTORIES and now have penal pens shuffling around urban city inmates, as “jobs”
    * emeryville, san francisco
    * CashAdvance loan shark operators
    * liquor store/laundry mat owners
    * any shops needing cheap rent to survive (how many tattoo shops r on Telegraph?)
    * artists and others who consider themselves not of the “gentrification” crowd
    * nonprofits and charities which focus on low income/domestic violence
    * local hospitals, insurance companies which process injured citizens at high cost
    * security service companies: ADT, etc

    Who’s NOT benefitting:

    * 90% of Oakland residents (mostly former “middle class” americans)
    * neighboring cities’ residents

    Other reasons we have so much crime, besides a Lame Duck Police Chief (Wayne Tucker) and no more high paying factory jobs (well, at least our largest private banks, aka “federal” reserve, and the growing CHINESE middle class have money!!)

  27. Max Allstadt

    brell, tattoo shops make money hand over fist. They don’t need cheap rent. tattoo artists are often some of the most well off bohemian types you’l meet.

    As for the rest you have some excellent points.

    Artists may benefit temporarily, but the likely long term outcome is that we’ll create stability and beauty in old warehouses, and then the speculators will benefit when land values go up and its time to kick us out. It’s true artists don’t want to create gentrification, but we also don’t like being surrounded by thugs and junkies.

    The “middle class” you speak of won’t benefit from gentrification either.

  28. James H. Robinson

    We know of benefits from crime, but who benefits from gentrification? By gentrification, I mean the influx of new middle to upper income homeowners.

    Current homeowners are the #1 beneficiaries of gentrification. Why? Because an influx of new homeowners tends to raise the home values of current residents. Also, gentrification gives retail a reason to locate in a neighborhood. Those retail establishments provide jobs, which also lifts up a community.

    Governments are the #2 beneficiaries of gentrification. To start with, Oakland makes money from transfer taxes when a home is sold. Then Alameda County makes money from real estate taxes from the newly-bought home. A new homeowner is likely to buy new stuff for the new home, and hopefully, that stuff will be bought in Oakland. That provides sales taxes for Oakland.

    Believe it or not, renters can also benefit from gentrification, assuming they can cope with higher rents. With new homeowners come new business, new services, and a new willingness to protect their investments by looking after the community.

    So the “middle class” does benefit from gentrification. In fact, I think the only people who do NOT benefit are chronic renters who cannot handle rent increases. However, what is gained usually outweighs what is lost. That’s why I applaud City Councilman Larry Reid for encouraging development along MacArthur Boulevard.

    Now, back to factories. I find it interesting how cities like South San Francisco and Emeryville are able to transition away from having a bunch of factories, yet people in Oakland tend to whine about the lost jobs instead of preparing for the new economy. Thank God for people like Van Jones and the Ella Baker Center! They will hopefully drag Oakland into the post-manufacturing future.