Neighbors bring safety concerns to town hall meeting
on February 7, 2011
On Saturday, Oakland City Councilmember Jane Brunner, whose district covers a large portion of North Oakland, held a town hall meeting to discuss violence prevention.
The meeting, held at Peralta Elementary School, drew roughly 60 people from Oakland and Berkeley, many of whom came prepared with questions for Brunner, Oakland Deputy Police Chief Jeff Israel, Deputy Chief Eric Breshears or Lieutenant Pete Lau.
The lines at the microphone were long, and the questions diverse. One Oakland woman asked “I am selling something on Craigslist and a stranger is coming to my house later— what should I do?” (Oakland police issued an alert in late December regarding a series of robberies in North and East Oakland that took place after victims responded to phony craigslist ads, and warned residents against conducting craigslist transactions in residential or secluded areas.)
Several people wanted to point out safety concerns in their neighborhoods, such as crowds of unruly people congregating on street corners or the presence of prostitutes operating out of local businesses. Daisy Freidman, an Oakland resident for over sixty years, told the panel about the crowds and drug sales she sees happen on her corner regularly. “I call the police station and it tells me to leave a message, but a message isn’t going to do any good next week,” she said.
Another person wanted to know why the police don’t always answer when you dial 911.
After layoffs reduced the number of OPD officers last July, the department changed several policing strategies, including focusing more on handling emergencies and less on investigating non-violent crimes. The department asked victims of non-violent or non-emergency crimes to report them via an online system called Coplogic.
Deputy Chief Breshears said that the OPD must constantly balance its resources between doing investigative and preventative policing. While everyone wants to know that the police will come to their home to make a report for every crime, no matter how small, he said, when citizens go online to report crime, it frees up resources that might go towards preventing crime rather than simply responding to it.
Frank Castro, chair of the Greater Rockridge Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council, said that many citizens are confused about how to report crime, including when to use the Internet rather than call the police. Castro also expressed concern regarding the lack of police academies scheduled for 2011 of 2012, stressing the fiscal importance of training new officers to replace more experienced officers who leave the force. New officers, he pointed out, start out with a lower salary.
After the meeting, Castro said that he was not impressed by Mayor Jean Quan’s pledge to rehire 10 of the 80 of police officers laid off last summer. He said that the attrition rate for OPD officers, which he estimated at fuve per month, means that the money to hire new officers is simply the result of having lost personnel at an unusually high rate. “The mayor said she ‘found’ the money recently to hire 10 new police officers, but that was only because we have so many officers leave every month,” said Castro.
Brunner also spoke briefly about her work trying to close Oakland’s budget deficit, but that the city could still have a $56 million hole come July 1. Brunner said that the city has already cut most non-essentials, and that some serious cuts are still ahead.
Brunner, as well as Lau and Breshears, all encouraged the citizens of Oakland to stay informed and involved with safety issues in their communities by staying alert and communicating with OPD, either online or by phone. “I want citizens to understand that they are an important part of the solution,” Lau said.
Oakland resident Amy Chang took the microphone to explain that, as a stay-at-home mom, she wasn’t rich enough to help the OPD in all the ways she would like. However, she asked that the police department come up with a wish list so that if citizens were willing and able, they could help purchase things for OPD to help prevent crime.
“I can’t buy the department a new police car, but what about a new radio? I could do that,” Chang said.
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