Police chief Anthony Batts did his best to positively portray the state of the city’s law enforcement capacity in a presentation of the Oakland Police Department’s strategic plan at Tuesday night’s city council meeting, but it was a difficult task. The 2009 data Batts presented showed that, of California’s largest cities, Oakland had the highest crime rates and slowest police response times by a wide margin. However, Batts said that overall, the city’s crime rate was down.
Using Power Point charts, Batts compared Oakland’s crime rates and police response times to nine other major cities in California. In the year 2009, 1,592 violent crimes were reported for every 100,000 Oakland residents, compared to an average of 659 violent crimes in the other 10 largest California cities. The city with numbers closest to Oakland’s was Sacramento, with 866 violent crimes per 100,000 residents.
Data on homicides and shootings showed Oakland in an even worse light—both types of crime occurred in Oakland at a rate more than three times the average.
What’s more, Batts said that the OPD’s average response times exceeded national standards for every category of emergency call. For “priority 1” calls, which include rape, assault, robbery and other crimes where a life or property is in imminent danger, in 2009 the OPD took an average of 14.8 minutes to respond. That is almost twice the time taken in the next slowest California city, Anaheim.
Batts said that while some call the crime statistics listed in the strategic plan “depressing,” his goal at Tuesday’s council meeting was to present a mission statement with strategic objectives to help the OPD improve service. “I was directed as I was hired to come up with a strategic plan to improve how the Oakland Police Department serves the City of Oakland,” Batts said. Batts started his position as police chief one year ago, and acknowledged Tuesday that the data did not reflect an effective department.
Rather than focus on the bad news, Batts and a retinue of presenters focused on over 100 action items that would bring about the police chief’s 5 “visions” for the police department. The first vision, the report said, was for Oakland to become “one of the safest large cities in California—both in reality and in perception.” The visions also included the goal of the OPD being “trusted, respected, and valued by those it serves,” as well as being “an effective organization, providing a supportive and positive work environment for its employees.”
Batts pointed to officer layoffs as a barrier to improvement, writing in the introductory letter to the strategic plan, which is available on the OPD website that staff reductions “will likely move the City of Oakland and OPD in the opposite direction to that established by this plan.”
To reach acceptable standards of crime rates and police response times, Batts said at Tuesday’s meeting that Oakland would need a minimum of 925 police officers. The department currently has less than 700, after having laid off 80 officers in July. The police chief said that so far, recent cuts to the police force have not brought down the number of patrol officers on the streets because other officers have been redirected from desk jobs. However, he said that once attrition reduces police numbers further, maintaining police on patrol will become more difficult.
Batts said he would know the strategic plan was working when the OPD is seen as a “legitimate law enforcement agency” both by the community and outsiders. “If, when you go to the airport in another city, and you tell people you’re going to Oakland, they don’t shudder, then you know you’re successful,” Batts told the council.
Every member of the city council present thanked Batts for his effort to comprehensively present the current situation of the police force. “I’ve been in city council over a decade, and I’ve never seen a plan so clear, so detailed,” said councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente.
Council member Pat Kernighan said she was pleased to see the comparison between Oakland and other California cities. “Previously, people just speculated,” Kernighan said.
But Kernighan also questioned Batts’ statement that Oakland’s crime rate has decreased over the last year. After experiencing relative quiet from her constituents in district 2 regarding crime, Kernighan said she is now “getting calls like crazy, ” although she did not specify which kinds of crimes her constituents have brought to her attention. Batts countered that crime rates typically peak in August and decrease during the winter.
Batts also took a moment to address council member Jean Quan’s recent brush with a purse-snatcher at a Safeway in District 4, which she represents. “I’d like to apologize that you were a victim,” Batts said. “Those things can be very traumatic.”
Upon hearing that Quan had tried to chase after the thief, Batts immediately said, “Please don’t do that, ma’am.”
In other business, the council also voted in a 90-day extension of temporary laundromat regulations. They were unable to agree on a permanent ordinance to address some council members’ concerns about crime sheltered by unattended laundry facilities. Under the temporary regulations, new laundromat owners must acquire a major conditional use permit, a process that involves paying a fee and bringing the proposed business plan before the city planning commission and the public. Owners of new laundromats must also provide an attendant and lighting in the facility at all times under the temporary regulations.
Disagreement arose when Kernighan and councilmember Nancy Nadel of District 3 said that laundromats do not attract crime in their districts. Kernighan in particular said that the businesses were just “where people get their clothes washed.”
De La Fuente argued to the contrary, with Jane Brunner of District 1 agreeing that criminal activity in laundromats has been a problem in the Bushrod and Temescal neighborhoods. De La Fuente’s proposed ordinance to make the regulations permanent failed a council vote, but the council agreed to come to a compromise before its next general meeting.