Batts touts police improvements, says tough choices ahead
on October 29, 2009
Mayor Ron Dellums and new Police Chief Anthony Batts touted the recent successes of the police department at a press conference Wednesday. Branch commanders from the OPD told reporters that they had increased staffing in key areas and reduced certain types of crime.
“There is a renaissance that is taking place,” Batts said, “and it’s my job to trumpet that.”
Jeffrey Israel, commander of the city’s police Bureau of Investigation, said his department has dedicated four more full-time officers to homicide investigations and brought the city’s case clearance rate up from 26 percent to 42 percent. David Kozicki, Deputy Chief of the Bureau of Field Operations, added that his department has worked hard in recent months to reduce home burglaries.
But Batts cautioned that the department will have to make difficult choices in the tough budget year ahead.
“What I have to do is take what I have and make that as efficient as I possibly can, ” said Batts, who is working on a strategic plan to identify the top priorities for law enforcement. “We can’t do fifty things. We can’t do twenty things, but we can do the top two or three or four or five that this city says it wants to do.”
One key factor in reducing crime has been getting more officers on the streets. Mayor Ron Dellums said OPD hit its goal last year by increasing staffing to 836 full-time officers. But attrition has since brought the number down to 791, Dellums said.
The city was able to avoid layoffs in the police department despite a budget shortfall, in part because of an economic stimulus grant from the Obama administration.
“I’m proud to say that Oakland ended up with the largest grant in the cops program from anywhere in the entire country,” said Dellums. “We were the only city in America that was given a perfect score on the submittal that we made.”
A large group of camera crews and reporters listened attentively to the reports from the police department leaders, but the real reason many members of the media turned out for the conference was to ask about recent comments from the Mayor’s office about creating a city-sanctioned alternative to sideshows.
Sideshows are spontaneous street gatherings in which crowds watch drivers perform stunts with cars. On October 17, an accident at an East Oakland sideshow killed three people. Shortly afterward, a spokesperson from the mayor’s office told CBS5 that Dellums was interested in exploring ways to hold legal sideshows at sanctioned locations in order to offer a safer alternative for young people.
At the conference Wednesday, reporters wanted to know what Batts thought about possibility of creating a legal, safe version of a sideshow.
Batts said he is open to exploring activities that are “productive for youth that may include cars,” but cautioned that “illegal activity will not take place on the streets of Oakland.”
Chief Batts had the police crack down on sideshows last weekend, issuing hundreds of citations, towing 67 cars, and arresting dozens of people.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Dellums and Batts sought to indicate that they are in agreement about sideshows and that they have been discussing alternative strategies for dealing with safety issues together from the beginning.
“What we said was, let’s step back and think a little bit about this and whether or not we can figure out a way to move this off the street, to move this out of the realm of illegality and to move this out of the realm of danger,” Dellums said.
One example of this kind of transformation, Dellums said, could be found in drag racing.
“I remember as a kid, drag racing was the real deal, and it was a violation of the law,” Dellums said. “It is now a sanctioned activity that is a multi-million dollar industry.”
However, both Batts and Dellums acknowledged that City Council Member Desley Brooks made similar explorations about creating safer, legal sideshows in 2003 without success.
“Our assumption is that it would not necessarily be easy to do,” Dellums said. “The difficulty of it does not necessarily preclude the effort to find a solution.”
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