Arrests Are Down, and Crime Is Up 

First Oakland police stopped solving violent crimes. Then the city's crime rate spiraled out of control.

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The recent influx of new cops has not really altered Tucker's ability to transfer more officers to the investigative team. Tucker has always had the ability to transfer officers into investigations, but has chosen not to do so. The addition of new cops hasn't changed that. Under Measure Y, a 2004 ballot measure that paid for most of the new officers, the cops are to be deployed in community policing duties.

The one division that is top-heavy with investigators is internal affairs — the unit that examines alleged wrongdoing by cops. According to Jordan, it has fourteen investigators, plus another fourteen sworn officers who perform administrative duties, for a total of 28. The unit was enlarged following the 2003 Riders' settlement. The Riders were a group of rogue officers accused of abusing and planting drugs on suspects. As part of a federal consent decree stemming from a lawsuit against the city, the police department must now thoroughly investigate allegations of officer misconduct. Jordan, who commanded internal affairs in 2005, said the unit is on track to investigate about 1,700 cases this year.

In recent years, top police brass have blamed the size of internal affairs and the Riders settlement for why the department doesn't have enough people investigating homicides, robberies, and the rest. But in the past several months, Oakland City Attorney John Russo, who negotiated the settlement on behalf of the city, and Jim Chanin, a private attorney who represented the Riders' alleged victims, both said the department could replace some sworn officers in internal affairs with lesser-paid civilians, just as other police agencies have done around the country. That way, Oakland could have more investigators on the streets to clear cases. "There's no reason they can't use civilian investigators," Chanin said. "They could do it, but they don't choose to do that."

Jordan said the department was open to the idea, but that the police officers' union opposes it. The union is against replacing dues-paying officers with civilians, he said. However, he also said he didn't think the department could afford to hire civilian investigators at a time the city is grappling with a $42 million deficit. Ultimately, it could be up to the mayor and the city council to decide.

But Oakland's inability to solve crimes isn't just a personnel issue. It's also about focus. Tucker acknowledged that since he took over the department in 2005, his main priority has not been to investigate and solve crimes, but to improve Oakland's response to calls for service. The department gets so many calls from residents every day that the 300 officers on patrol spend most of their time driving to people's homes and businesses and filling out crime reports, he said. But that's a service-oriented tactic that seems more suitable for a suburban sheriff's department than for an urban police force.

Tucker and the department have yet to produce a detailed plan for reducing crime. In addition, the department has de-emphasized juvenile crime investigations and arrests over the past half-decade, and it obviously has not learned its lesson from the takeover robberies. Plus, there is no indication that Oakland's stratospherically high crime rate is close to subsiding. Last week, CQ Press (Congressional Quarterly) named Oakland the fifth-most dangerous city in the nation based on 2007 crime figures. Oakland was fourth in last year's ranking, which was based on 2006 stats. And as of last week, 2008 was slightly higher than 2007 in terms of violent crime.

In addition to concentrating on service calls, the department has spent considerable resources on crime suppression in recent years, targeting "hot spots" throughout the city, like it did with the sideshows and the takeover robberies. It's about blanketing the roughest areas of the city with patrol cars, and pulling over people who act "suspicious." "It's ridiculous," said Ron Oz, a former Oakland police officer, department ombudsman, and 2006 mayoral candidate who was once friends with Tucker, but now is his most prolific critic. "We're chasing hot spots all over town."

And it isn't working. If Tucker had listened to Harnett and focused more on investigating crimes, catching criminals, and putting them behind bars, there's strong evidence that the city's crime rate would now be declining, as would the number of "hot spots" and calls the department receives from crime victims.

If Jerry Brown had had his way, Oakland would have a different police chief and possibly a different philosophy for fighting crime. In late 2006, Brown was fed up with the city's soaring crime rate. Never known as patient man, Brown had ousted two prior police chiefs, Joseph Samuels and Richard Word, because they didn't lower crime fast enough. In fact, he replaced Word with Tucker in late 2004 in an attempt to finally bring the city's crime problem under control.

But within two years, crime under Tucker worsened dramatically. In fact, Word's tenure looks pretty good right now. In his last year in office, the total number of violent crimes was 5,151. By 2006, it leapt to 7,599, and has remained high ever since — a 48 percent increase. No other large California city studied by the Express experienced such a huge jump. So Brown decided that before he left City Hall, he would replace Tucker with one of his deputies, Captain Frank Lowe. According to Lowe, a 28-year veteran of the department, Brown called him to his condo just before Christmas of 2006 for a job interview. Lowe said he told the mayor: "We need to be in crisis mode, crime is the worst I've seen in Oakland and I was born and raised here." After the interview, Brown said, "Frank, I think you're the man for the job," Lowe told the Express.

But then the deal unraveled. According to Lowe, Brown said that he had told City Administrator Deborah Edgerly about his plan to change police chiefs. Edgerly, who was fired earlier this year by Dellums after she apparently interfered in a police investigation, then told Tucker what Brown wanted to do. Tucker became upset and refused to step down, so Brown gave up on the idea, deciding that he didn't need another City Hall power struggle just before leaving office. "Jerry said, 'Sorry Frank, it didn't work out,'" said Lowe, who retired from the department in 2007 and is now the chief of police for the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco.

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