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Oakland police officers shift roles in wake of Measure BB

on November 22, 2010

“We don’t have time to whine and cry,” Oakland Police Department Chief Anthony Batts told the theater full of Neighborhood Watch and Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) members last Thursday evening. “We have to work together because we have limited resources.”

Batts addressed Oakland residents at the second open-to-the-public review of the latest from CompStat, Oakland’s new police data system, which uses computerized statistical monitoring to trace trends in city crime and policing.  At the meeting in the Oakland Museum’s theatre, as reported in this story from radio station KALW’s “The Informant“, Batts laid out good news and bad: compared to this time of the year in 2009, total numbers of crimes have dropped, including murders. But residential break-ins are up 40 percent, and despite the recent passage of Measure BB, total cop numbers are still down.

Currently, the OPD has 324 officers assigned as 911 call respondents, five crime reduction teams and two traffic unit teams. But to fulfill Measure BB requirements, Batts announced that OPD is moving officers back into the 75 problem-solving officer (PSO) positions starting in January.

Passed by voters earlier this month, Measure BB eliminates the requirement to meet police staffing levels. This allows Measure Y funds to again be levied from property tax and bring back $19 million in funds previously held.

Bureau of Field Operations Deputy Chief Eric Breshears stressed that Measure BB would not bring more officers back, but will prevent layoffs which were set to happen in January if Measure BB or Measure X did not pass. He said replenishing PSOs to fulfill Measure BB obligations would cut into other departments, especially the Bureau of Investigation.

“They may label a couple of officers as PSOs but we don’t have a police force that can handle that luxury,” said Nancy Sidebotham, Beat 29X NCPC and Community Policing Advisory Board Chair.

Neighborhood Watch Steering Committee Colleen Brown wondered, “What are they really going to be doing? Are we going to get the PSOs as they’re meant to be or are they going to be PSOs in name who only do the project at the end of the month when their report is due?”

Batts emphasized the need now more than ever for community crime prevention groups like NCPC and Neighbor Watch to “drop the egos” and work together.

“I’ll be clear to you. I do not have enough police officers. Period,” Batts said, adding that the city needed at least 925 officers—that’s 255 more officers—to run OPD effectively.

“We have to be the first line of defense to solve our problems in our neighborhood because the police don’t have the manpower to do it,” Sidebotham said. “I don’t care if we have a PSO. You still need the community to be the eyes and ears for the PSO.”

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Image: Oakland Police Department Chief Anthony Batts discussed the future of community policing Thursday night saying that he’d train every employee at OPD, “starting with the short bald guy who’s the chief of police, all the way down to janitorial staff.”

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