The Oakland Police's failure to implement community policing is making our neighborhoods less safe, and Adams Point has borne the full weight of their mistakes. But to be fair the department is understaffed. I contend that the City of Oakland does not know how to develop creative financing measures to provide good service.
Residents protest police redeployment
Officers pulled from beats to answer emergency calls
By Heather MacDonald, STAFF WRITER -- OAKLAND TRIBUNE
OAKLAND -- Dozens of angry Oakland residents are accusing police Chief Wayne Tucker of betraying the city's commitment to community policing.
They deluged the City Council's Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday night with their complaints.
Because the department -- with 100 vacancies -- has been stretched by the upsurge in violent crime, Tucker ordered his community police officers to spend one day a week responding to 9-1-1 calls.
The stopgap measure, which began at the end of April as the outcry over increasing violence climaxed, is expected to last at least until the end of the year, Capt. Dave Kozicki said. The City Council has ordered the department to step up recruiting and hiring in an effort to fill the vacant positions by Jan. 31.
Don Link, a North Oakland resident and chairman of the Community Police Advisory Board, told the committee that Tucker's redeployment betrays the promises made to voters in Measure Y, which hikedproperty and parking taxes in 2004 to allow the department to assign one officer to each community police beat.
"This is an attempt to redefine community policing to anything they say it is," Link said, condemning the department's reduction of community police officers every time violence surges and the department is stretched thin.
Sixty people have been killed in Oakland so far this year, compared with 35 at this time in 2005. Assaults with a gun are up 91 percent, and armed robberies are up 56 percent from the same period last year.
Mary Prime Edwards said redeployment of the community police officer from her East Oakland neighborhood had wiped out the progress made in recent months to combat a nearby open-air drug market and rampant prostitution.
"We're in jail in our own homes," Prime Edwards said. "We're being held hostage in our own homes."
Tucker responded that he had no other choice but to redeploy the community police officers to keep Oakland residents safe from violent and egregious crimes.
"The department fully supports community policing, but I have to be able to manage the department," Tucker said.
Due in part to the redeployment, the time it takes officers to respond to a 9-1-1 call has dropped by two minutes in recent months, the chief said.
Link and the advisory board recommended that the number of community police officers be reduced from 24 to 18, who will be supervised by two sergeants. The other officers could be deployed full time to patrol until new officers are hired, while remaining community police officers would not respond to 9-1-1 calls, according to their proposal.
Tucker said he completely disagrees with the board, and its proposal would be a true betrayal of Measure Y and the city's commitment to community policing.
Members of both the advisory board and the oversight committee keeping tabs on Measure Y criticized Tucker for not informing them of the redeployment earlier. Tucker acknowledged that he should have sought both groups' feedback several months ago, saying he had "shot himself in the foot."
The Public Safety Committee unanimously asked City Administrator Deborah Edgerly to sit down with police commanders and members of both the advisory board and the oversight committee and work out a compromise on the issue.
Councilmember Larry Reid (Elmhurst-East Oakland), the Public Safety Committee's chairman, said Tucker needs the flexibility to deploy officers as he sees fit, and noted there will not be true community policing in Oakland until the department is fully staffed with 803 officers.
However, Councilmember Patricia Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown) said she fundamentally disagrees with Tucker's approach, as did Councilmember Nancy Nadel (Downtown-West Oakland).
"We are in a crisis, and we need more patrol officers," Kernighan said. "But this is not the solution and why community policing never quite gets off the ground."
Nadel said officers assigned to community policing duties should not respond to calls for service.
"We've had this debate over and over again," Nadel said.
Councilmember Jean Quan (Montclair-Laurel) said the chief was trying to do the right thing but called Measure Y a "covenant with the community" that should not be violated.
The Oakland City Attorney's Office has reviewed the department's plan and deemed it legal and consistent with the legislative intent of Measure Y, Deputy City Attorney Rocio Fierro said.
If the redeployment were rolled back, officers would be forced to work an additional overtime shift every two weeks rather than every three weeks. In addition, officers on the swing shift would be forced to work extra hours every Friday and Saturday night, Kozicki said.
Each week, 120 shifts are filled by officers working overtime because the department has not been able to recruit and hire police fast enough, despite having plenty of money, Kozicki said.
On the four days a week the 24 community police officers are not working patrol, they spend half of their shift walking the high-crime areas of their beats to get to know the community and identify emerging problems, Tucker said.
The one day a week community police officers spend responding to calls for service in their beat actually benefits the department's community policing effort by increasing coordination with patrol officers and reaching out to residents who do not belong to a Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council or another anticrime group, Tucker said.
Tucker's remarks were twice interrupted by derisive laughter from those attending the committee meeting, prompting Reid to rebuke the audience.
Link called on Tucker and city officials to "level with" the community about the difficulties facing the department and to be honest about the reduction in community policing, rather than dressing it up as an enhancement.
In addition, several speakers told the committee they also were alarmed by a draft internal memo made public this week that sought to transfer the duties of the Oakland Park Rangers to the patrol division and the Strategic Area Command, headed by Kozicki.
Tucker said there are no plans to disband the rangers. However, department commanders are exploring ways to effectively police the parks until more rangers can be hired. Only three of the eight park ranger positions are filled, and the department is focused on hiring officers, not rangers, the chief added.
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