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Undermaned Oakland Police Force Faces New Crime "Hot Spots"

Amid heated calls to stem violence with more officers, mayor and chief pitch task force to snuff out hot spots
By Heather MacDonald, STAFF WRITER OAKLAND TRIBUNE

OAKLAND — The woman began shaking and crying as soon as she started recounting how she and her friends had been robbed, pistol-whipped and assaulted.
She shook as she recalled being put on hold by a 9-1-1 operator as she frantically tried to get to her car and away from the young teenagers threatening to open fire.
Her question is similar to one people all over Oakland have been asking themselves and elected officials with increasing frequency in recent weeks:
"Why shouldn't we sell and move?"
On Wednesday, Mayor Jerry Brown and
police Chief Wayne Tucker tried to provide an answer by announcing a new task force ofcops will be formed immediately to squelch hot spots before they erupt into full-blown crime waves.
"We will let people know Oakland has an aggressive police force and the streets are not a playground for thugs, gangs and shooters," Brown said.
But no new officers are scheduled to hit the streets until the summer, when 33 recruits are scheduled to graduate from the police academy.
In the first two months of this year, 19 people have been killed — 200 percent more than during the same period last year. Shootings are up 148 percent and robberies 109 percent compared with the first two months of 2005.
The violence is not just concentrated in the flatlands, either. Brutal attacks in normally safe areas such as Rockridge and Piedmont Avenue have shaken residents, who have deluged city officials with demands to do something to stanch the flow of blood.
The Police Department will identify developing problems using real-time crime data to pinpoint problem areas, said Capt. David Kozicki, who will command the 115-member task force.
"We're not asking officers to work harder, but to work smarter," Kozicki said.
In addition, 13 officers will be redeployed from Oakland International Airport to the patrol division, which Tucker said would prove to be a "force multiplier." The number of officers on patrol at any one time will remain the same, but they will be working less overtime as a result of the redeployment. The move is scheduled to take effect March 11.
The airport will not be left without police: Those shifts will be filled by Oakland officers working overtime.
Although it has an authorized strength of 802 officers, the department has a current force of 703, with about 65 on long-term leave or disability, Tucker said.
At a meeting of the council's Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, Councilmember Patricia Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown) said the city could no longer go about its business as usual.
"There is an emergency on our streets," Kernighan said.
Council President Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale) told the committee that neighborhoods once considered safe no longer are.
"We're going backward, and that is absolutely unacceptable," De La Fuente said. "This is a crisis."
The department is also being pinched by the agreement that settled the "Riders" police misconduct scandal and required it to implement wholesale reforms.
Earlier this year, a federal judge overseeing the case ordered the department to "redouble its efforts." The department responded by increasing the number of officers in Internal Affairs to 33, with an additional 12 in the office of the inspector general.
De La Fuente said the settlement agreement requirements are "draining resources and manpower" from the department.
The committee ordered City Administrator Deborah Edgerly to find more money to increase the department's ability to recruit and train new cops in an effort to have



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802 officers by Jan. 1.
Edgerly will present a plan to the council March 21 for how to pay for a stepped-up effort to recruit and train officers. But she said it would likely be less than the $3 million requested by the department's training division.
Tucker said that while it is possible to achieve the goal, it would require an extraordinary effort, including running additional academies and restructuring the program to reduce the attrition rate, which has been as high as 47 percent.
Oakland Police Officers Association President Bob Valladon said anyone who thinks that is living in a "dream world," especially because there are currently 50 members of the department who are 50 years old or older and eligible to retire with lucrative benefits.
The committee also urged Tucker and Edgerly to move "able-bodied" officers with administrative jobs onto the street.
But committee members acknowledged that such a redeployment is unlikely because of opposition from the police officers association.
Valladon said recalling officers from the airport does not make sense because of the additional overtime required, which would put even more pressure on officers already required to work several overtime shifts every month.
The reorganization will not have a significant impact on the crime wave either, because there still will be only 35 officers patrolling the city at any given time — one in each of Oakland's beats, Valladon said.
"It's all smoke and mirrors," Valladon said. "It will change nothing for the average person who calls 9-1-1 and needs us to respond immediately."
Under the terms of its contract, the department must meet and confer with the officers association on significant changes. The union may move to block some of Tucker's changes, including the redeployment of the airport officers.
But the real fight begins next month, when the city and the union begin negotiating a new contract that will dictate schedules, benefits and wages for at least the next year.
The size of the Police Department began dwindling in 2002, after the council declared a citywide hiring freeze in an attempt to close a budget shortfall of almost $40 million. De La Fuente said he regrets voting for the hiring freeze.
In November 2004, voters approved Measure Y, a measure that raised roughly $20 million a year to hire 63 new community police officers and fund a variety of social programs, such as job training for ex-felons.
But only four Measure Y officers are on the streets so far, and the proposals for the programs are still being evaluated 16 months after its passage.
Kernighan said that is the source of much of the anger she hears from her constituents.
"People feel cheated," Kernighan said. "They are absolutely justified in being angry. The first obligation of the city is to make people safe."
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