Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Were the Cop Killings Bound to Happen?

By Robert Gammon
Wed, Mar 25, 2009 at 11:29 AM

As more information is revealed in the shooting deaths of four Oakland cops, it's starting to become clear that the tragic incident was emblematic of a police department that's badly off track. There's even an argument to be made that Saturday's bloodbath, or something similar to it, was bound to happen. The root problem is that OPD's crime-fighting culture is ass backwards. For years now, the department has been obsessed with suppressing crime, and no longer makes solving crimes a top priority. This unfortunate shift not only has resulted in a dramatic increase in crime in recent years, but there's convincing evidence that it ultimately led to last weekend's unnecessary deaths.

Let's review what's been reported so far. At the time of the shootings, Lovelle Mixon, a 26-year-old ex-felon, was wanted on a no-bail warrant for violating his parole. Yet Oakland police had detained him in the days before the killings, and then let him go free. Why? Sources told the Chronicle that he gave a false name and so they didn't know who he was. If that were not bad enough, it's now clear that police didn't really need to know his name at the time to arrest him. The reason is that they were in possession of a sketch that investigators now say was a "pretty dead-on" resemblance to Mixon. The sketch was created with the help of a 12-year-old girl whom Mixon allegedly raped earlier this year. Nonetheless, police gave Mixon a free pass. And then finally, on the day before the killings, police got a positive DNA match that linked Mixon to the brutal rape of the girl. However, nothing was done, because there was already the no-bail warrant for Mixon's arrest and the lead investigator in the rape case went home.

In other words, police arguably had several chances to grab Mixon before Saturday. If they had, the tragic killings could have been avoided. But solving crimes just isn't something the department does well anymore. It's no longer in its culture. As this newspaper and others have documented, Oakland police have had for many years the worst record of solving violent crimes of any large city police department in California. It didn't always used to be that way. In the mid and late 1990s, the department's record for solving crimes was quite good. Not surprisingly, that era was followed by historically low crime levels. But then after the department turned away from solving crimes to suppressing them - targeting "hotspots" with the security-guard approach to policing - crimes shot up dramatically.

How bad has it gotten? Let's look at rape. From 2005 through 2007 (the last year in which complete data is available on crime solving), there were 911 reported rapes in Oakland. Police, however, solved just 86 of them, or 9.4 percent, according to stats from the state Department of Justice. In short, more than 90 percent of the rapes that occurred in the city - not counting all the rapes that were never reported - went unsolved in the last three years. The rapists literally got away with it over and over again. In that context, it's not surprising that police would allow someone like Mixon to slip threw their fingers. That's what happens in Oakland.

So if OPD has abandoned good old fashioned detective work, how's the crime suppression, the cracking down on bad guys, working out? Well, it may have led to more bloodshed last Saturday. From all indications so far, it looks like OPD brass acted rashly when they ordered the department's SWAT team to storm the apartment Mixon was hiding in. By then, it was too late to save two of the officers - they were already dead. But police might have avoided three more deaths if they stepped back, taken a breath, and found a way to solve the problem. Instead, without knowing what was going on inside that apartment, they sent in the SWAT team, which broke down the door, and tossed in some shock grenades, prompting Mixon to open fire and kill two more cops, before cops killed him.

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