Friday, April 6, 2012

Oakland Hills Residents Freak Out (Again) About Crime

by Robert Gammon
Fri, Apr 6, 2012 at 10:42 AM

Every few years, wealthy residents of the relatively safe and quiet Oakland hills have a mass freak-out over crime. Usually, it’s prompted by a rash of burglaries. And typically, hills residents complain that the city directs too many of its scarce police resources (and their tax dollars) to the poor and violent flatlands of East and West Oakland. Wealthy hills dwellers usually contend that their needs are not being met. Well, residents of the hills and the tony Rockridge district are complaining about a rise in burglaries again, and they’re blaming Mayor Jean Quan’s 100 Block crime plan, because it focuses scarce public resources on the most violent neighborhoods of East and West Oakland.

The only problem is that Quan’s 100 Block plan appears to have nothing to do with the recent rise in burglaries in wealthy neighborhoods and the lack of police to patrol those areas. Instead, the fewer number of cops patrolling the hills can be traced to a decision early last year by then-Police Chief Anthony Batts to direct more police resources to East and West Oakland. Batts’ move was prompted by a 2010 decision by the Oakland City Council (of which Quan was then a member) to slash the size of the city’s police force. The layoffs were the result of a substantial reduction in city tax revenues because of the Great Recession, and because of the police union’s refusal at the time to pay into its pension plan.

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Batts reasoned that with fewer police officers available, he needed to focus them on the city’s crime-ridden areas. He announced that the department would no longer respond to numerous different crimes and he reduced the number of so-called problem-solving beats — of which individual officers focused solely on neighborhood crime issues, such as burglaries — from 57 to 35. He consolidated beats, mostly in the hills, so that the wealthy neighborhoods would no longer have their own officer dedicated solely to their needs. Instead, they would have to share with other well-to-do neighborhoods.

Current Police Chief Howard Jordan, who was appointed by Quan and City Administrator Deanna Santana, continued with Batts’ realignment plan after Oakland residents rejected a parcel tax measure last fall that would have allowed the city to hire more cops. Although hills residents complained about Batts’ realignment, it made sense. Ethically and morally, it’s impossible to justify having police officers patrolling the hills in search of burglars, or assigning an officer to solely work in areas with relatively little crime, when entire swaths of the flatlands are plagued by some of the worst crime in the nation.

As for the 100 Block plan, Quan is financing it partially through grants the city received to combat the high-crime rates in East and West Oakland. For example, the city won a $10.7 million federal grant last year to hire 25 police officers to patrol some violent neighborhoods around five middle schools. As such, those officers — and the funds used to hire and pay them — are earmarked specifically for the flatlands. Not the hills. In fact, it would be fraudulent for the mayor and the city to redirect it away from the flatlands and give it to wealthy neighborhoods worried about burglaries.

That being said, it’s remains unclear whether the 100 Block plan will work. The reason is that it appears to subscribe to the security-guard approach to policing — that putting more police officers in certain “hot spots” will reduce crime in those areas. However, the evidence as to whether such plans actually work is less than conclusive. These plans operate on the assumption that criminals tend to be dissuaded from committing crimes if a cop car drives by every once and a while.

In reality, Oakland’s violent crime problems have historically centered on illegal, heavily armed drug gangs battling over turf. It’s hard to see how having more cops on patrol is going to affect that dynamic. In fact, violent crime is up so far this year citywide.

Instead, it seems increasingly clear that Oakland will not put a dent in its violent crime problems until the police department learns how to investigate crimes, capture criminals, and break up the drug gangs. As the Express has reported, OPD has a dismal record of doing this type of police work.

Nonetheless, it’s too soon to reach a definitive verdict on the 100 Block plan. It hasn’t been in effect that long, as the police department was busy during much of late 2011 and early 2012 responding to Occupy Oakland. The 100 Block plan deserves a chance to succeed — at least a few more months. However, if violent crime is still on the rise at the time, then Quan, Jordan, and Santana should rethink the strategy.

Finally, as to the controversy over Quan and Jordan’s decision to not publicly release a map of the exact boundaries of the 100 Block plan, we view that decision as an error in judgment, although not a major one. It’s never been a secret in Oakland as to where most violent crime occurs in the city. Just take a look at one of the homicide maps that the Oakland Tribune publishes every year.

Moreover, one doesn’t need to know which exact blocks are in the plan to know whether violent crime is up or down in the city. The police department regularly posts the city’s crime stats on its website. And if violent crime goes up citywide, then the 100 Block plan isn’t worth continuing — even if violent crime goes down within those 100 blocks.

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