Joseph Tuman 
Member since Nov 18, 2012


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Re: “Are More Cops the Answer?

Hi Bob--and thanks for that explanation re: infrastructure investment. I don't have any argument against infrastructure spending; indeed, in Oakland there is much which qualifies as deferred maintenance in our infrastructure which needs serious attention. I do question, however, how much public safety benefit this yields? In that spirit, permit me an example. In Oakland, some public projects for infrastructure investment come from dollars outside of Oakland (county, state and federal). One such project is the train being constructed to connect the Coliseum BART station with the Oakland Airport. That has been a huge infastructure investment with, I believe, federal dollars. (if memory serves, this was stimulus money). Supposedly this was going to create transit oriented development (development around transit systems). In the rush to accept these dollars, however, we created a rail line that runs directly to the BART station with NO stops along Hegenberger Road. No stops at any hotels. No opportunities for stops at other businesses that might develop there. Instead, the train has the opposite effect--it encourages passengers to get out of Oakland quickly by going to the BART station and then continuing somewhere else. This was a huge infrastructure project--and outside of temporary construction jobs for trade unionists (a good thing), I am unclear what development or new tax base it promoted. More to the point, I fail to see a public safety benefit here. I realize I am only giving one example, and I would welcome a counter example from you to demonstrate the opposite here.

41 likes, 6 dislikes
Posted by Joseph Tuman on 05/16/2013 at 11:54 AM

Re: “Are More Cops the Answer?

Darwin, thanks for your response--but let me press you on one point: are you seriously suggesting that spending more on other city services (e.g., tree trimming, pot hole filling, two hours more for library time at night, a speedier line to pay a parking ticket, etc) would have greater public safety returns than spending to increase our force and bring the number of police to an acceptable level? Of course, I am only teasing--I know that by "city services," you really referred to investments in housing, or job training programs or perhaps social outreach programs to decrease violence, etc--yes? Okay, let's start there. Which of these services with more of our city dollars invested would produce a better safety outcome than more police ? Now we are not talking theoretically--we are talking real facts and policy. That's the implication you derived from the IBM study--so tease out your argument. As I said in my earlier post, I think we need programs, jobs, education, and police--not just police and nothing else. At the same time, I don't agree that spending more on services and nothing more on police (to increase staffing) is a prudent move when our police force is so badly understaffed. And as to that last point, no less an authority than the Mayor's own expert Bob Wasserman (and Bill Bratton too!) has suggested in recent town hall meetings on numerous occasions that Oakland has the most understaffed and under-resourced police department per capita of any city in the United States. In this environment, is it accurate to imply that spending more on other services would achieve better public safety results?

44 likes, 4 dislikes
Posted by Joseph Tuman on 05/16/2013 at 12:16 AM

Re: “Are More Cops the Answer?

Gosh Bob, I have to agree with Daniel Schulman on this. The study you cite to critique the other point of view (arguing for investment in more police officers) assumes that a city has already reached a desirable threshold for staffing--established by virtue of the fact that crime rates are at a moderate or modest and acceptable level. That clearly is not the case here in Oakland. Our rates of crime across the board are very high (check the most recent FBI data for this). Moreover, these numbers have occurred in a time of reduced staffing.

In context, if we assume that the preferred staffing level was 1000 officers for Oakland--then the IBM study you cite would be relevant IF our staffing was currently at 950 officers or so (in the ballpark), and our crime rates were down. But neither of those reflect the reality today.

Our Mayor right now seems to be trying to re-set the bar for staffing by claiming she can get us to between 700 and 800 officers in 5 years. That would be an improvement--but it would still be LESS than we need. And even if we accepted 800 as the desired number--650 or so officers (what we have today) is not close enough for one to invoke the IBM study and say we are close enough, and therefore that more officers will not improve safety.

Let me, however, challenge the assumption that even 800 officers would be adequate.

There have been no shortage of legal and law enforcement experts who have opined that Oakland needs approximately one thousand officers. Currently, we are in the mid 600's--thanks to the most recent academy. But we still have to wait for the current academy to graduate cadets in September AND THEN subtract from these additions, any cadets who do not matriculate out of field training, post-academy. Then we have to take this number and measure it against normal attrition for Oakland officers due to lateral transfers, retirement, disability, etc. Historically that number is about "5"/ month (averages between 4 and 6). Currently it is about 4.5/ month. At this point that would translate to a loss of 54 officers for this year--but if the normal pattern re-emerges, it would be attrition of 60 officers. If we graduate 78 officers from the year's 2 academies for 2013 (38 for the class in March, and being generous, 40 for the class in September), we then subtract 54 (again, being generous) from 78 and get a net of 24 officers added to the force this year--which still keeps us at less than 650 officers for the year. We are understaffed, and even with 2 academies/year we are not making up much ground. If the goal is 1000 officers, it will take 10-12 years at this rate to get to full staffing.

In that sense, the IBM study is not an apt comparison. We are not at or near capacity on staffing.

To take this a step further--consider some other points. First, how safe do you think most Oakland residents feel today? Recent poll evidence suggests they/we do NOT feel safe. Many of those same residents will tell you that their perception of diminished safety is directly tied to the fact that the police do not/cannot always respond to calls UNLESS a gun is involved. There is a reason, after all, that Oakland's robbery rates are off the charts--and it has to do with more than just lousy arrest rates. It is also because the robbers do not fear a police response.

Additionally, if our residents felt safe and that police staffing was adequate, why would they be making efforts at privately purchasing cameras for neighborhoods? Or for that matter, going to the extreme of hiring hiring private security to patrol their streets? Or, even more to point, why would parts of the hills area be engaged in discussions about trying to create a special assessment district just for them, to raise a separate parcel tax and provide police that would patrol their area? Would any of these occur if people felt safe and our department was fully staffed?

Common sense tells us that we do not have enough police. I am not someone who believes that more officers alone will solve every problem. In point of fact, if all we did was only to hire more police--and nothing else--we be doing little more than a suppression strategy. Pushing down on the problem will not make it go away. Programs are important as well. So is business development and jobs, and education, etc. It all matters. It is all relevant.

But let's not kid ourselves that we live in some kind of Utopian Oakland where less cops are fine, and more cops aren't part of the solution. Cops do matter. Not only for arrests--but more,
because their visible presence (with constitutional policing) deters crime, by discouraging people from making bad decisions.

52 likes, 6 dislikes
Posted by Joseph Tuman on 05/15/2013 at 11:06 PM

Re: “Can OPD Ever Be Fixed?

Hi Bob--

Thanks for your thoughtful reply--and also the link to your article from 2008 (well written, by the way). I did not intend to imply by my comments that management decisions had not contributed to the problems you cited--especially closure rate for open investigations. I not only concede that point to you here--I've never disagreed about that argument. My larger point was that this analysis underestimated the role (in my judgment, at least) that not just understaffed--but the visibly declining size of police staffing has played in the increase of crime. And to connect this back to your point about department effectiveness at solving crime--once crime increased, it became more difficult to solve because the size of the force declined. Simply put: more crime because criminals don't seem to fear being caught AND less cops to solve cases.

Let me unpack those last two points for a moment. Again, I appreciate the historical perspective you lent to this discussion by going back to the 1990's and the management philosophies of different police chiefs including Word and Tucker. At the same time, I am reminded in this of people who compare current and past iterations of sports teams like the Raiders or Yankees. How often do we hear commentators say something like this about a football franchise: " "This team historically has problems scoring in the red zone. It's been that way for the last 25 years!" While this may be statistically accurate, it ignores the fact that in that time there may have been many different coaches, GMs and even owners. The players change as well. It's not fair to generalize about a team made up of different people in different eras. Maybe and even likely they reached the same result for different reasons. In a similar vein, I don't know that we can compare the situation, the management, and the staffing of the department today in 2013 with what it was in 1990 or 1995, and then generalize about the department as a whole. Chief Tucker is not Anthony Batts. And Anthony Batts is not Howard Jordan. For that reason I would rather compare the same police department under the same chief, over a period of years. And since we are talking about the department's record today--why not focus on the current iteration of this police department?

So what can we say about this? Chief Jordan assumed control of this department approximately two years ago (I think about 9 or 10 months into Mayor Quan's first term?). In that time we have observed two things: first, the amount of crime in the city--especially violent crime--has continued to increase. Since you mentioned homicides, let's add that here. In 2010 (Dellums' last year), the homicide rate was about 95. In 2011 (Quan's first year), it rose to 110. In 2012, it climbed to 131. Other forms of crime got worse as well.

The other thing we can note here is that in the same time, the size of the police department visibly shrank. And so it continues to this day until we get our first look at some new cadets. In the mean time we have supplemented things with CHP officers and deputy sheriffs, but only as short term assistance.

I don't think it is a logical stretch to connect the increased crime rate with the declining numbers of officers. As I've suggested to you before, I think many of the people who commit these kinds of crime are at some level rational actors. They are not likely to commit a crime (especially a violent crime) in front of police officers--unless they are attacking those officers. Police presence in this way does more than just arrest to solve crime--it also deters crime by discouraging the impulse to make bad choices.

In our current state, having less officers to patrol has contributed to perpetration of more crime from those who do not fear any consequences. When we enlarge this discussion beyond violent crime with guns, and consider all violent crime, not to mention other crime like property crimes (breaking and entering, automobile theft, etc)--the record is fairly clear. Crime is occurring in more numbers and in different locations, much of it in response to a police policy that advises crime victims to file a report online--because officers will not respond (from lack of numbers) unless a gun is involved or some serious violence has occurred. Most victims of crime in Oakland know this and are quite angry about it. Unfortunately, many of the perpetrators seem to know it too.

Thanks for hearing me out, Bob. I appreciate the chance to discuss this in this forum. And I'm open to any further points from you.

5 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Joseph Tuman on 03/15/2013 at 10:22 PM

Re: “Can OPD Ever Be Fixed?

Bob--you write:

"Part of the problem is that OPD is understaffed. However, the cash-strapped city doesn't have the funds to quickly beef up the size of the force. "

While I appreciate that you acknowledged that staffing is part of the problem--I think giving it one whole sentence in this article implies that the cause of the problem is about other things like police culture and department management. I think you need to explore this more.

This department has had problems--no question about that. And charging/convicting innocent people can never be justified or rationalized, period. There is no debate about that.

But let's be real about the core of things. For starters, OPD is not just understaffed--but understaffed at levels that make it difficult to deliver public safety for the city today. We are down to six hundred-plus officers (a month ago it was 613, today it may be under 610), of whom about 260 are available for patrol. We are graduating a new class of cadets--but that class started at 60 and is now graduating 38. We have another academy starting later this month that will graduate about the same number (just average it to 40) in September, and a third academy will start in September, but not graduate anyone until March of 2014. In context, then, unless the city suddenly changes course and super-sizes these academies or hires laterally from other departments, we will add about 78 officers, while we also lose about 60 to normal attrition (approximately 5/month) to OPD in 2013. That is a net add of about 18 officers for this year.

We may add more in 2014, and there is a proposal from the Chief to dramatically increase the total of officers--but even if this gets the support of the city council, it will still leave us well under even the 800+ number of officers we reached during the Dellums administration.

Staffing is a resource issue--and one that involves the city administration and the city council. Staffing and resources affect other parts of OPD as well--including forensics investigation in our crime lab. The lab is also understaffed and under-resourced, and has a backlog of cases that stretches quite a distance.

You need to factor these pieces of the equation into the critique of the department's performance. Is the department's record at solving homicides low? Perhaps--but when you are understaffed, you have less people available to share the workload. Cases can't get closed without investigation. When your crime lab is understaffed/under-resourced, you have a large backload of cases--and surprise, you turn to other evidence (like witness identifications) to satisfy the evidentiary requirements for prosecution. Whose fault is that, exactly? OPD, for not getting the forensic evidence, or our city leaders, for failing to find ways to fund staffing and other resources?

Bob, I'm not saying OPD isn't responsible for the decisions it makes--good and bad; it most definitely is accountable for that. What I am saying is that OPD isn't in control of all the decision-making process here. There is a policy/political component to this, that also bares scrutiny. How do we spend our money on law enforcement? How do we prioritize public safety?

Do we prioritize public safety?

Even with consultants like Wasserman and Bratton trying to help reorganize the department, it's difficult to see how all of this will work in the long term. Theirs is a short term focus, designed to squeeze more efficiencies out of those 600-plus officers. Both consultants will readily tell you the department is woefully understaffed.

Add to this one other thing not mentioned in this story: OPD must act within the supervision of an NSA Compliance Director (Frazier) who has the power to fire the Chief and remove staff. OPD has operated and will operate under the
scrutiny of a federal monitor (Warshaw) who is critical of their past moves. Both of those men answer to a federal judge (Henderson) who is tired of the pace of reform within the department. At this point and for the immediate future, it's not even clear the city of Oakland is in total control of its own police department.

This is the larger picture and reality of our situation. I'm not defending the department for its mistakes. I'm encouraging you to enlarge the canvas you're painting on.

10 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Joseph Tuman on 03/15/2013 at 1:22 PM

Re: “Getting Away with Murder

I appreciate that the East Bay Express has devoted this much time and print space to addressing Oakland's number one problem: public safety. At the same time, I'm not sure I follow your central premise--that this is somehow a cultural problem specific to OPD. As your examples make abundantly clear, this is a problem of resources--we simply don't have enough officers to do the job in this city. That is a political problem--not a police culture problem.

We do not have leadership at either the mayor's level or within the city council that does anything more than make unkept promises about police staffing. Think police officers are expensive? Of course they are--but who negotiated (and negotiates) those contracts? City officials. Think pension costs for city workers--and especially safety workers are huge? Of course they are--and unfunded pension liability is a serious drag on the financial health of this city. But pensions are calculated to reflect base salaries. Who negotiated the deal for these things? Our city officials. And who continues to see pension obligation bonds (borrowing money to help pay off our pension obligations) as a solution--even though it means we will owe more in the long run? Our city officials. Think police overtime is a huge expense? Of course it is--but when you have fewer officers, they have to do more overtime to cover the same work. And then they do it poorly (as this article demonstrates). But who created a situation in which there would be fewer officers (thus more overtime) in the first place? Once again--our city officials.

You have done a truly commendable job in this article analyzing the specifics of our police department's shortcomings. But you need to do another article and take a good look at our city government--and the elected officials responsible for contributing to this mess. And while you're at it--how about including a discussion of Measure Y? This will sunset in about two years, and by that time we will have spent nearly 200 million dollars that were supposed to fund more police AND social programs to reduce violent crime. Did that funding produce more police officers? No. Did all the social programs make a meaningful reduction in violent crime? Seriously, you know the answer to that question. The sad truth is, more officers alone will not solve the problem; some social programs do work--although the metrics they are judged by do not include a direct reduction in violent crime. That needs to change, but voters will likely not trust our electeds when it is time to re-up Measure Y. And they are right to be cynical. After all that time and all that money, do any of us feel safer here?

Finally, how about including a more thorough examination of our city's crime fighting policies? Oakland has no comprehensive plan to address violent crime. Instead what we have are a series of initiatives--some of which (like the 100 Blocks) were more fantasy than factual. Others--like Cease-Fire--have potential, but require consistent, reliable political leadership, and application of resources. Absent that, what we have is a hodge podge of programs. Not connected, and not consistently applied.

18 likes, 4 dislikes
Posted by Joseph Tuman on 11/18/2012 at 9:20 AM

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