OPD tops staffing targets for sworn officers, first time since 2013

Speakers line up to address the Public Safety Committee. Photo by Sasha Lekach.

Speakers line up to address the Public Safety Committee. Photo by Sasha Lekach.

On Friday, for the first time in more than a year, the Oakland Police Department will exceed its staffing targets for sworn officers. The upcoming graduation of the 170th Police Academy will bring the total up to 715 officers, eight more than the average of 707 anticipated in the department’s budget. The last time the OPD had more sworn officers than targeted was in May, 2013.

These numbers were announced at Tuesday night’s meeting of the city’s Public Safety Committee, as OPD Deputy Chief Eric Breshears presented the latest report on police staffing. The meeting was well-attended, with the 56-seat Sgt. Mark Deakin Room at City Hall full and community members standing in the aisles. The meeting was chaired by Councilmember Noel Gallo (District 5), and the committee includes Councilmembers Lynette Gibson McElhaney (District 3), Dan Kalb (District 1), Libby Schaaf (District 4), Assistant Police Chief Paul Figueroa and representatives from the City Administrator’s and City Attorney’s offices.

The most recent police budget allocated funds for 707 officers for the fiscal year 2014-15, which runs from June to June. “707 isn’t a ceiling,” said councilmember and mayoral hopeful Schaaf. “707 is the average.” Schaaf pointed out that the report predicts the police department will be under that average for eight months in 2014-15, and above it for four, as the influx of new graduates from police academies is offset by retirements and other departures from the department. According to the police report, the attrition rate is currently 6 officers per month.

As of October 28, the police department has 680 officers, Breshears told the committee. The new academy will add another 35, and after Oakland resident Assata Olugbala asked how many of the new recruits were African-American, Breshears stated that 15 of the new officers are Hispanic, ten are white, six are African-American, three are Asian and one is Indian. Ten of the 35 are Oakland residents, he said, a statistic which drew slow claps from the audience, thanks to the recent public focus on the high number of officers who live outside of Oakland.

“I cannot overstate the necessity for officers to be in the police department who can relate to the community they’re serving, who have a vested interest, a passion, who have relationships with people in the community,” Olugbala said. She spoke twice at the meeting on the importance of hiring African-American officers, after the staffing report and after police officers reported on crime trends and crime reduction activities.

Figueroa and the five captains who are responsible for Oakland policing areas presented this crime trends report, which is drawn up quarterly. Figueroa stated that as of September 21, there has been a citywide 12 percent reduction in Part 1 crimes—murder, assault with a firearm, rape, robbery and burglary—since the same date in 2013. In East Oakland, Area 5, Captain Sharon Williams said there has been a 40 percent drop in the number of murders, and that robberies are also down 45 percent from 2013.

Williams discussed the gang-related shootings that have happened during the past few weeks in her area. She said the area is very focused on identifying residents who are committing violence and using Ceasefire to reach out to them. Ceasefire is a police strategy that asks community leaders to work with law enforcement agencies and offenders to reduce gun violence. Williams said she is trying to bring back bicycle and walking patrols in East Oakland, of which there currently are none. “We have a laser-like focus” on crime in this area, she said.

In North Oakland, Area 2, Captain Darren Allison said that from July to September there had been a reduction in gun violence compared to the beginning of the year. He said that there were still robbery hotspots along the Telegraph Avenue corridor, around Adams Point and in the upper North Oakland area. “Everyday I look at crime trends and patterns, and assess where to deploy the limited resources I have,” said Allison, who also said his officers were using social media to push out information and safety tips and to communicate with the community.

Karen Boyd, Assistant to the City Administrator, presented a report on Oakland Animal Services, which is responsible for animal welfare in the city, including taking in strays and responding to claims of abused or neglected animals. This agency is part of the police department, but is transitioning to a stand-alone department. The animal shelter, which is currently at 168 percent of its capacity, has been without a permanent director since March, 2014, but Boyd said an appointment would be announced by mid-November.

Staff vacancies, including empty positions in coordinating rescues and performing veterinary services for animals, are an issue at the shelter, which the City Administration staff are working on resolving, said Boyd. “Our volunteer coordinator is currently focusing so much on rescue that she doesn’t have time to focus on the volunteers, and the volunteer program is falling apart,” said Tracy Gondo, a volunteer at the shelter, commenting after Boyd’s report.

Oakland Animal Services has been recently criticized by No Kill Oakland, a group that says the shelter is unnecessarily euthanizing animals. In a press release on October 9, the group argued that this violates California law, which requires that if an animal has a person or rescue organization willing to take it in, it should not be euthanized. Josephine Blake, an Oakland resident who said she had recently tried to adopt an animal from OAS, told the committee that she had volunteered to rescue a dog and was told by the shelter that he had been taken by a rescue organization. She later found out that he was actually euthanized. “He had a place to go, and nobody called me,” she said.

The agenda items that drew the most comments from audience members were an update on cannabis-related arrests, a report from the Citizens’ Police Review Board, which investigates community complaints of police misconduct, and a retrospective evaluation of Measure Y.

“In 2013, the rate of arrests for possession of less than one ounce [of cannabis] went up 8 percent from the previous year,” said Robert Raich, an attorney and expert on medical cannabis law, after the committee heard a report from City Administrator’s Assistant Greg Miner on cannabis-related arrests. The report found that the city’s Nuisance Abatement Division had identified 43 unlawful cannabis dispensaries in Oakland since 2005, and that “at least five” locations had been shut down by the police in the last year. The report did not contain specifics on the number of individual arrests, but Figueroa said they were “in the mid-200s for citations.”

Raich is an instructor at Oaksterdam University, where students learn about history, law, science and business theories regarding cannabis. He worked on the passage of Measure Z in 2004, an initiative which made cannabis offenses committed by adults Oakland’s lowest law enforcement priority. By continuing to make these arrests, “OPD is disregarding the will of the voters,” he said.

Miner and Figueroa countered that arrest numbers are still very low, and that the locations that had been shut down were illegal because the cannabis-related activity was taking place on commercial property, which is not accounted for in Measure Z.

The report on the Citizens Police Review Board stated that the Board resolved 25 complaints in the first half of 2014, recommending discipline against officers in four cases, three of which were for verbal misconduct. Kyle Hudson, an audience member who spoke after the report, said the board needed to reach out to the local community. “Several members in the community that I know of would be more energetic in expressing their complaints and concerns to the Citizens Police Review Board than to internal affairs. There needs to be more of an effort to get the board involved in the community,” he said.

Coordinators from Measure Y, which was passed 2004 to provide money to Oakland Unite, a violence prevention strategy, evaluated the service provided over the last ten years. The coordinators said there was a strong reduction in the number of people who committed crimes again after being through the service, but declined to give exact numbers. McElhaney called Measure Y “not a replacement of a comprehensive crime reduction strategy in the city.” Measure Y sunsets this year; next week, Oaklanders will vote on a replacement public safety ballot measure titled Measure Z.

The meeting had run for two hours before the World Series intervened, as Gallo joked about the Giants hat an audience member was wearing, saying “Let’s get an A’s hat on him!” The news that the San Francisco team was down 9-0 was met with outright laughter from some parts of the room.

The evening concluded after the committee passed every item on the agenda by consensus. Two additional police academies will graduate early in 2015, following approval from the finance committee next Tuesday, and the department is also working with pilot programs with Oakland high schools to get more residents interested in careers in law enforcement. “We’re working feverishly to make sure that pipeline is open as big as it can be,” Figueroa said.

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