Are more police Oakland’s answer?

By Michelle Locke The Associated Press
Wednesday October 23, 2002

OAKLAND — Critics of a ballot initiative authorizing 100 new police officers to fight Oakland’s rising murder rate are slamming the plan as a misguided and costly approach. 

“This is not going to really solve any problems,” said former Black Panther Bobby Seale, who recently moved back to Oakland and appeared at a news conference Tuesday denouncing the initiative. 

Earlier, another group called Oakland Community Organizations also expressed concern about ballot Measure FF. Members stopped short of taking a position for or against it, saying they want assurances the money will go for such things as neighborhood patrols and a program to close drug houses. 

“We want to be sure that the community has some accountability. That the things that are promised will get done and that we will see some results on the streets and in our neighborhoods,” said the Rev. Valerie Miles-Tribble of the community group. 

Mayor Jerry Brown, who came up with the plan, said the need for more police is a “simple question of arithmetic.” The force, which now has around 780 positions, is getting 800,000 calls for service each year. 

“The fact is there are not enough police in Oakland to give the service that the people of Oakland are demanding,” he said. 

Oakland’s murder total reached 90 on Monday with the discovery of a man shot to death in his car. Last year, that tally was 84 for a city of 406,000 people — a 5 percent increase from the year before. Still, the 2001 total was Oakland’s fourth-lowest in 30 years. 

Voters are being asked to approve four ballot measures, three raising utility, hotel and parking taxes by about $70 million over five years and the fourth, Measure FF, endorsing the hiring of more officers and spending more on crime prevention programs. Critics question the wisdom of spending more money on a department that has been rocked by the corruption trial of three fired police officers, known as “The Riders.” They are accused of beating suspects and falsifying reports. 

But Brown defended Oakland’s police department as one of the best in California, saying officials are working to root out those problem officers. 

Seale, who appeared at the recently opened School for Social Justice & Community Development alongside principal Wilson Riles Jr., said money for Measure FF would be better spent on creating job opportunities and improving education and recreation programs. 

“We need a police department that will work with our community, but more than that we need the kinds of programs that will provide job opportunities and build our economic base,” said Riles, a former mayoral candidate. 

But Brown said the city, county and state already is spending tens of millions of dollars on social programs. 

“It’s not that we don’t have enough programs. We have too many people who won’t take advantage of the existing programs,” Brown said. “You have to separate out fact from ideology and the facts are that the people of Oakland are demanding, through their service calls, more and more police service.” 

City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente said city officials are sympathetic to concerns that the new tax money be spent wisely, but it’s important that Measure FF pass. 

“In no way shape or form anybody believes it is the total answer. But we need those 100 police officers,” he said. 

Standing near De La Fuente was Raul Jimenez, a retired warehouse foreman whose son, 30-year-old Raul Jr., was shot to death in a road rage incident. Jimenez, who is not sure whether he’s ready to vote for the police ballot initiative, has worked on neighborhood crime-fighting issues for 15 years. 

“The bullet went through his head from side to side,” said Jimenez, shaking his head slightly.