WHY OAKLAND IS SINKING INTO DEADLY VIOLENCE
Seven murders in Oaktown this weekend alone.
Police want to reassure Oakland residents that their fair city is still safe place to do business.
Sure it is.
Thousands of Oakland residents and hundreds of Oakland business people have voted with their feet over the last three years.
The most aggressive crime reporting in the media about Oakland’s problems is now in the San Francisco Chronicle – from a safe distance across the Bay.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. I’ve addressed the Oakland “murder problem” before. In an Oakland Tribune editorial in 2003 I warned:
“My Word” Op Ed
Published in the Oakland Tribune March 2003
The City of Oakland is unique among California cities because it is poised on a knife’s edge, its immense promise balanced by a powerful undertow. Will this year be remembered as a time of creative renewal, or the beginning of a downward spiral? The biggest part of the answer depends on the men and women of OPD, and whether they continue to get the resources needed to do a difficult job. ….
During 2002, the city of Oakland achieved a homicide rate just under 28 per 100,000, or more than twice the highest homicide rate ever recorded for the state as a whole. Police sources confirm that most of these homicides are being committed by thousands of prison parolees released from state prison to live in Oakland. An even more telling analysis emerges from Attorney general Bill Lockyer’s preliminary report, just released, comparing state crime statistics for the first six months of 2001 against the same period in 2002. California crime, as a whole, increased 7.5% for that period, while Oakland’s increased 28.1% using the same index. The Los Angeles increase was only 5.6%. Yes, Oakland’s murder rate has been even higher in the past (140 in 1997, for example), but if the present trend continues, dismal new records will soon be set. And there will be economic consequences.
Crime responds primarily to the pressure of aggressive, competent, professional law enforcement, visible on the street, trained to notice signs of criminal activity, and quick to respond. City after city has learned (or failed to learn) the hard lesson: Wherever you reduce the effective police presence, criminal activity soon increases. For all the discussion about New York’s success in restoring safer streets in Manhattan, one indisputable fact stands out: They added more cops. From 1997 through 2001, NYPD’s upward budget curve almost mirrored the downward curve in major felony crimes reported.
All the energy, purpose and progress of the last few years could vanish like the dot com bubble if Oakland fails to dramatically curb the current outbreak of murder, gunfire and other violence.
Later on, I added:
Oakland Tribune 9-30-03
“My Word” Column
OAKLAND REAPING WHAT IT SOWED
At the current kill rate Oakland will have 120 homicide victims by Christmas. [We’re now a handful short of 100 Oakland lives lost to bullets, knives and assaults.] Oakland is reaping the bitter harvest of its neglect of the public protection infrastructure. ….
Violent crime has a relentless opportunistic quality – it exploits weaknesses, especially reduced police protection. Unchecked, it turns good neighborhoods into bad ones and transforms bad neighborhoods into war zones. Oakland’s population mix contains a significant percentage of dangerous people. Among Oakland’s law-abiding citizens there are thousands of probationers and parolees, mostly crime prone males, nearly all repeat offenders with growing criminal histories More than 3,000 of them have done state prison time.
The re-offend rate from this group exceeds 70 percent. For a typical parolee, there are several buddies, all at high risk of criminal behavior. In large parts of Oakland, more than 10 percent of the population is crime-prone.
This law enforcement challenge is magnified by a “don’t snitch” ethos on the street. Most homicides are unsolved for this reason.
This March I pointed out that OPD, already suffering from inadequate staffing levels, could ill-afford the reduction of even one officer position. I warned that deeper cuts could lead to a catastrophe.
Those deeper cuts were implemented.
Having worked with public protection budgets at the county level for years, I am familiar with the arguments that always surface in hard times.
Everything with a constituency is equal: Parks, roads, health, welfare, and so on. So nothing is sacred and all pain is shared.
But this is just not true. In a war zone, there is one overriding priority: Stop the war. Unchecked, the domestic war in Oakland can take down all of the progress of the last ten years and do it in ten months.
This isn’t rocket science. Oakland needs more cops, more police training, more police community involvement, more patrols, and more homicide investigators. ….
In the dark days of the Great Depression, FDR said it best: Among the greatest of freedoms is freedom from fear. This defines the one entitlement that trumps all the rest. It is the right to have the criminal law enforced in your neighborhood, rich or poor. No child or adult in Oakland should have to live in fear of a bullet, a knifing or a beating.
Jay Gaskill is the former Alameda County Public Defender
I’ve written published editorials on crime in Oakland at least six times:
http://www.jaygaskill.com/InjectionDeterrence.htm , http://www.jaygaskill.com/chief05.htm ,
And I have met with then Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown who was at least receptive to what I had to say.
The new mayor on the block, former congressman, Ron Dellums, after studying the problem for a year on the job, has experienced an epiphany, no doubt spurred by the anger of the remaining residents who are tired of dodging bullets. He now thinks that Oakland needs the full compliment of police that Oakland voters approved years ago.
Message to the mayor: That was not enough even then. Oakland’s public protection forces are understaffed even at authorized levels.
Here’s the dirty little secret (several actually): Crime is not like firefighting. You can temporarily decrease the number of firefighters on duty and fires don’t suddenly spring up. You can even give police a sabbatical in a law abiding community (think Provo, Utah here as a contrasting example) without necessarily courting chaos.
But Oakland is different.
Oakland has a startlingly large subpopulation of crime-prone, violence-prone individuals (98% male) who need to be deterred by a robust police presence 24/7. Consider just one number: Oakland is home to roughly (and I do mean rough) 3,000 parolees.
To the uninitiated: You don’t get parole unless you have been committed to state prison for a felony and you typically don’t go to state prison for your first or even second felony in this jurisdiction. The great majority all parolees continue to commit crimes after their release. The great majority of parolees hang out with buddies who are also crime-prone and violence-prone. To adequately police 3,000 parolees would take the entire Oakland police force, with nothing left over for the rest of the crime and law enforcement problems afflicting this otherwise promising city.
Former New York Mayor Giuliani did one thing that, above all, that drove down crime in New York City. He radically and dramatically increased police staffing levels and put them all to work.
Think about it. This last weekend, all of New York City was safer than Oakland, California.