Police Chief Howard Jordan announced Thursday afternoon that Oakland is hiring police consultant William Bratton, a former Los Angeles police chief who also served as police commissioner in both New York and Boston, to combat what Jordan called an “unacceptable” crime rate under his watch. As the city’s new police consultant, Bratton is charged with helping Oakland develop programs to target gang activity, work with the community to build trust, and reduce violence, including using statistical data to prevent crimes.
With 2012 coming to a close, the city has seen a spike in violent crimes, including 127 homicides—a five-year high—as well as a dwindling police force. In 2008, there were 837 Oakland police officers; today there are 616, Jordan said Thursday.
“We are taking a very aggressive approach to fighting violent crime,” said Jordan to a room of reporters at City Hall, flanked by City Administrator Deanna Santana, Mayor Jean Quan and Councilmember Patricia Kernighan, chair of the city’s Public Safety Committee. “I feel very responsible for some of the things that are happening—I take ownership as chief of police, that this stuff is happening on my watch.”
Bratton, a consultant with the Boston, Massachusetts-based Strategic Policy Partnership, a group of public safety and public policy experts who are hired by cities to help develop crime-fighting strategies, is known within law enforcement for his aggressive tactics, including his endorsement of a strategy often called the “broken windows theory,” a belief that if small crimes are not dealt with, larger ones will occur.
The city announced earlier this year that they’d pay $100,000 to Robert Wasserman, chair of the Strategic Policy Partnership, for public safety consulting in the aftermath of Occupy Oakland. Now, they’re paying another $250,000 to aide the city’s police force in developing what Jordan called “crime-reduction strategies.” Bratton will be paid roughly $125,000 for his role in this effort, according to Jordan.
Jordan said Bratton will be able to work in the city freely, in both the community and within different city departments, including the mayor’s office and with the city administrator. Jordan cited Bratton’s experience in helping develop CompStat, or Computer Analysis of Crime Statistics—a program that Bratton started in New York in the 1990s, that has been replicated in cities like Los Angeles, Boston and Detroit—as one reason the city is hiring him. Using the program, police departments analyze crime data to identify problems and patterns. Bratton is also known for his work in community policing, tackling police corruption and being tough on gangs.
Police spokesperson Officer Johnna Watson said on Friday that Bratton’s position is separate from the court-ordered “compliance director” who must still be hired in order to avert a federal takeover of the police department—a decision made December 13 in which the city must hire an outside person to enforce departmental reforms that were ordered nearly a decade ago in the wake of the “Riders” lawsuit.
Contracting for outside police work was just one tactic Jordan announced Thursday. He also said he was re-starting a neighborhood policing model, beginning with two areas of East Oakland, where officers will be dedicated to certain neighborhoods to patrol the streets and build relationships with residents and anti-crime groups.
“We believe that these two initiatives, the contracting for help, along with returning to neighborhood policing, gives our best opportunity to look at reducing violent crime in Oakland,” Jordan said. “We’ve heard from our community members—we’ve heard their cry loud and clear. They’re also upset, and disappointed in the crime that’s taking place in Oakland.”
Quan and Jordan said although the city has tried neighborhood-based policing in the past, the model failed because it was too broad. “The last time we did it we tried to implement it in the city all at once, and didn’t have a beta test period, or a trial period,” Jordan said. “This time we’re starting with some of the most challenging areas.”
Beginning in January, police will focus on East Oakland, then assess what’s working and what’s not, before the strategy is replicated in other areas, said Jordan.
The ultimate goal for the police department, Jordan said, is to create a comprehensive crime reductions strategy, using some initiatives already in place, including Operation Ceasefire, Measure Y and gang injunctions that are in place in both North Oakland and the Fruitvale. “One of the things that we’re going to do is take an inventory of all the crime-fighting efforts we’ve been doing, and create a citywide, comprehensive crime-reduction strategy,” Jordan said.
The city is currently struggling to get some of the programs already in place to work. In October, the city relaunched its participation in Operation Ceasefire, a nationally renowned violence prevention strategy that targets a small number of violent offenders in the city and offers them a choice to either stop breaking the law and get help, or face focused attention from the police department. Ceasefire was initially introduced in Oakland in 2009, but failed largely because of a lack of penalties for offenders.
Measure Y, passed by Oakland Voters in 2004, is a ten-year, $19 million program that funds violence prevention programs and adds “problem-solving” officers to the city’s force. But currently, the complete plan set forth by Measure Y has been stalled because of lack of resources. Meanwhile, the gang injunctions—court orders that restrict known gang members from associating with one another, enforces curfews and prohibits gang recruitment—have faced criticism from both the public as well as some elected officials.
City officials said on Thursday that in the long-term, that funding two police training academies a year, for the next five years, will also help fight crime by bringing the force back to 2008 levels. The first academy is expected to graduate in March.
In addition, Quan said the city is focusing on creating neighborhood volunteer networks, which work with police, as well as hiring 20 civilians to work with the department doing what Jordan called “mundane” work, such as helping with vehicle tows and administrative work.
“We agree with the community that the crime rate is absolutely unacceptable,” Quan said. “The city council has made this their top priority, as have we.”