A plan to beef up the Oakland Police Department’s presence on the streets was approved Tuesday night, when the city council voted for a last-minute agenda item putting the California Highway Patrol (CHP) on its payroll over the next two months.
The CHP has already been assisting Oakland police with patrolling since November, when the state agreed to help Oakland for free. Since then, the CHP’s help has resulted in 2,338 traffic stops, 1,928 citations issued, 742 impounded vehicles, 99 felony arrests, 222 DUI arrests and 14 guns recovered, according to a city report.
But City Administrator Deanna Santana said that the CHP’s help would end this month, if the council didn’t approve the emergency funds.
The policing plan, which will cost the city $162,000, puts a total of ten extra CHP officers on the streets two nights a week, plus two supervisors. That means five additional patrol cars in the city, two officers per car. CHP officers will not respond to OPD dispatch calls.
In late January, the council approved a similar plan to put five cars from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department on the streets for at least three months, costing the city $250,000. After the first three months, the council can choose to extend that contract for an additional three months.
Santana and Anthony Toribio, the assistant chief of police, introduced the emergency item Tuesday night, noting that the city has been in discussions with the state about continuing to receive in-kind services from the CHP. “The CHP has depleted their overtime budget,” Santana said. “If we want their services to continue, we have to have some level of compensation.”
Santana and Toribio pointed to an emergency staff report that had been submitted to the council which stated: “As we well know, OPD has had an increased amount of gun violence and street robberies that have resulted in citizens being severely injured or killed. Currently OPD is at the minimal level for police staffing and experiencing an increase in crime in all categories such as homicides, robberies, burglaries and assaults.”
Toribio called the help from the CHP and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department “urgent.”
“The CHP and the Sheriff’s Department provide high visibility patrols and traffic enforcement,” he said to the council Tuesday night. “These are things that the police department right now cannot provide, due to our depleted staffing levels and high call volume. We need help.”
Toribio added that the increased staffing contributes to the city’s comprehensive crime reduction strategy. That includes Operation CeaseFire, a national violence prevention strategy that targets a small number of offenders in the city, and offers them a choice to either stop breaking the law and get help, or face focused attention from the department. CeaseFire was initially introduced in Oakland in 2009, but failed largely because of lack of penalties for offenders. It was reintroduced in late 2012.
“Now, four nights a week, we’ll have supplemental police services in areas linked to gun violence,” Toribio said. “That helps the CeaseFire initiatives, where there’s a high level of violence. We currently don’t have the internal resources to address it.”
Oakland police spokesperson Johnna Watson confirmed Wednesday morning that the department currently has 613 officers. Councilmembers called the staffing “bare-bones,” noting that substantial cuts were made two years ago during the 2010 budget cycle.
Two years ago, the City Council approved what has been described as crippling police layoffs during the summer of 2010, shrinking the force to 656 in January 2011, down from 830—the most sworn police officers the department has ever had, according to Sgt. Christopher Bolton, a police spokesperson.
However, Bolton said a study in recent years recommended a minimum staffing of 900 police officers.
“Chief Jordan recently said his number is 1,000 officers,” Bolton said. “That’s what we need given calls for service, the city’s crime rate, and for best practices—that includes “free” time officers spend preventing crime, as opposed to responding to it.”
Bolton said the assistance of the CHP and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department presence helps prevent crime in Oakland.
“The amount of time officers should spend on the streets preventing crime was determined to be 33 percent, and right now our officers have much less than that,” Bolton added. “That’s where the CHP and Sheriff’s Department come in, but that’s just a short-term solution.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan (at large) and Libby Schaaf (District 4) cheered the temporary help, but noted that the city needs to increase the size of its own force as well. “It is absolutely essential that we grow our own police department,” Kaplan said.
Schaaf agreed, noting that the council should do as much as it can to stop violence. “We are graduating an academy, but they will not be available until July, so between now and the summer we will have the lowest OPD staffing that we have seen in decades,” Schaaf said. “Crime is at unacceptable levels. I very much support this item.”
Mayor Jean Quan said the city is funding three police academies, at the cost of roughly $7 million each, over the next two years.
Councilmembers Desley Brooks (District 6) and Lynette Gibson-McElhaney (District 3) voted against the plan. Brooks said the council shouldn’t rush into a decision on the funding, and noted that the details of the plan were not included in the meeting’s agenda packet.
“Crime is a real issue in the city of Oakland,” Brooks said. “But the [Memorandum of Understanding] never made it into the packet. How are we going to effectively serve the public when we haven’t even done our homework?”
Oakland residents, who spoke to the council, said that the city needs to address its crime level.
“I’m in favor of this motion tonight because of the ongoing public safety crisis,” said Geoff Collins, who identified himself as a retired businessman and Oakland resident. “These are short-term measures, and we understand that, but these are critical times. CeaseFire is taking a lot of resources.”
Michael Johnson and Ron Muhammad, both Oakland residents, said that the city also should address staffing the Oakland police department in the long-term.
“We need to figure out a way to recruit, and reduce the attrition rate,” Johnson said.
Muhammad said he moved to Oakland four years ago, and he’s since seen an uptick in violence. “Oakland continues to make its mark as one of the most deadly and one of the most violent cities in the United States,” he said. “But we need to address what’s really going to make a difference, and that’s boots on the ground.”
The council also addressed recent gun violence at the First Friday event, also known as the Art Murmur. Santana said the city is working on an update regarding newly-proposed event rules, such as banning alcohol, which the public can expect by the end of the week, or early next week. First Friday organizers are working with the city on the safety of the popular arts event.
“I would like the whole council to hear what the administration is planning for next First Friday—there’s not a lot of time left,” said Council President Patricia Kernighan (District 2).
The city also announced the rollout of “Open Oakland,” a new city website (data.oaklandnet.com) created by the city and the program Code for America, which seeks to put public records and city data—everything from crime statistics, to budget information—online. The program is geared towards creating a more participatory democracy, city officials said.
“This is a new easy way for the public to get engaged with government,” Kaplan said. “It’s going to have really positive ripple effects.”
McElhaney, who represents the district where First Fridays and Art Murmur is held, also cheered the rollout of the site. “We’re so excited to make government so accessible, and to bring in technology to help close the ‘digital divide,’” she said.
Also on the agenda Tuesday night was the issue of building a new dog park at Astro Park, at the intersection of McArthur Boulevard and Lakeshore Avenue. At its December 18 meeting, the council’s vote on the dog park was split 4-4. Mayor Jean Quan was charged with casting the tie-breaking vote, but decided instead to work on finding an alternative site.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, the item was not discussed or voted on, because conversations are underway between the Oakland Dog Owners Group, or ODOG, the group Save Astro Park, and the city for an alternative site at Snow Park. But because of city regulations, the dog park proposal must appear on every city council agenda until an appeal by the Save Astro Park group is withdrawn from the city.
Scott Miller, the city’s interim planning and zoning director, said there is an expectation that the groups will agree on the Snow Park site. Approval of the new site would not have to come back before the council, but a conditional use permit would have to be approved by the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission.
“We’re pushing for a decision in April, but that seems optimistic,” Miller said, adding that the decision could be extended until May. Currently the city and groups are working with businesses and property owners near the proposed site to address concerns. “We have extensive community outreach being done,” Miller said.