Letters for the week of February 4-10, 2004 

Chief Word quarrels with our column about narcotics arrests. Plus, complaints about SYDA, Indymedia, and obesity research.

"Pursuing SYDA," Bottom Feeder, 1/14

Time to move on
Lisa Abbot, manager of the Oakland ashram, might claim that SYDA has "confronted the issue of sexual abuse" by asking the "teacher" in question to leave SYDA. However, if you were to ask virtually any member of SYDA why the teacher in question left, they would repeat the party line: X left SYDA because it was "time for him to move on in his sadhana, guided by the shakti." In SYDA there is no such thing as accountability or honest, open discussion of issues affecting the community. Information is withheld as a matter of policy. Living in a city where corruption and abuse within the Roman Catholic Church have become such a public issue, I often wonder how SYDA manages to keep sweeping its considerable dirty laundry under the carpet. Money talks, I guess.
Sadhvi Sokoloff, former SYDA member, Scituate, Mass.

I only did it for the shaktipat
Like Meg Ryan, and a lot of other people, I too carry a picture of my guru, Swami Muktananda, everywhere I go. Muktananda himself said you should test out any prospective guru thoroughly before you commit to him. Like most organizations, SYDA has its share of scandals, soap opera, and human drama, as well as legal entanglements. My only complaint with the article was that the graphics didn't do justice to the beauty of Gurumayi, who is a very beautiful woman in my opinion. Plus I'm keenly interested in SYDA because they can indeed transmit "shaktipat."
Ace Backwords, Berkeley

A slick, well-oiled scam
I too was involved with SYDA for 22 years and left last year.

In the past year I have been astounded and shocked over the blatant behavior of this organization. To think that sincere seekers' money, resources, and sacrifice are wasted on untold amounts of lawyers and court cases: hush money, paying off the judges, and really playing God with whomever comes across their path is a most arrogant way of deceit, conceit, and betrayal not just to the injured but also to their loyal flock.

SYDA is a very sophisticated and very slick well-oiled scam.
Adriana Breidenstein, Houston, Tex.

"High Times for Drug Kingpins," City of Warts, 1/21

Word from the chief
Mr. Thompson's story is factually incorrect, misleading, and obviously expresses his bias against the mayor and the Oakland Police Department's efforts to combat open-air drug dealing and violent crime.

Had Mr. Thompson taken the time to do some informed research, he would have learned that his drug-arrest numbers for 2003 (3,935) do not include the last two months of 2003, since this data has not yet been entered into our system.

Additionally, if he had listened to me, versus extracting only that information which supported his original premise, he would have learned that we had a total of eleven officers dedicated to major narcotics investigations in 1999. We currently have nine. Furthermore, we now have a Police and Corrections Team, which includes six officers from the Oakland Police Department, a deputy probation officer, and two state parole agents. This team meets with all newly released parolees each week, and they look for those who have absconded. Their work is based on solid research that shows that parolees and probationers are victims or perpetrators in nearly 50 percent of the city's homicides.

Mr. Thompson also failed to mention that we doubled the size of our crime-reduction teams in 2002. In addition to making street-level drug arrests, these officers utilize informants and write search warrants for drugs and weapons.

Mr. Thompson might be interested in knowing that last year we reassigned two of our highest-performing officers to our homicide section. These two men are immediately available to homicide investigators and move quickly to pursue homicide suspects, witnesses, and other investigative leads.

Our number-one priority is to reduce violent crime in the city of Oakland. A sophisticated agency does not do this by narrowly focusing on major narcotics investigations. The wise approach has to be much broader, more comprehensive, and thoughtful. We are targeting repeat offenders. We are focusing our efforts in Oakland's violent crime hot spots. We have stepped up our efforts to abate street-level drug activity, and we will continue to pursue major narcotics traffickers. We are not driven by a desire to boost asset forfeiture revenue.
Richard L. Word, chief of police, Oakland

Chris Thompson responds
I stand by my reporting. Contrary to Chief Word's claim, the narcotics arrest figures that I cited do include the last two months of 2003 -- at least if the data supplied by the chief's department can be trusted. I used the 2003 crime statistics found on the police department's own Web site, which include the date and a brief description of every arrest made during the year. According to these figures, Oakland police made 671 drug arrests in November and December. Nikki Kinghorn, the OPD's director of research and planning, who is responsible for collating the department's crime statistics, assured me during my reporting that the Web site's arrest figures were up-to-date. This data shows that drug arrests dropped 17.7 percent the year after the chief disbanded the narcotics investigative unit. As for his assertion that the department currently has nine narcotics investigators, his own Lieutenant Rick Hart, who oversees narcotics investigations, claimed that the department currently has seven -- a claim that I reported in the story. Finally, I did report that Word has substituted crime-reduction teams for the narcotics unit, a point that apparently escaped him.

"Flameout of the Armchair Radicals," City of Warts, 1/14


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