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Oakland faces telling murder toll

Monday November 18, 2002

OAKLAND – A 55-year-old woman died after a scuffle in her home, Oakland Police said, and they are investigating the death as a homicide. 

If Charlotte Duda’s death is ruled a homicide, it would be mark the city’s 100th murder of the year, the most slayings since 1995 at a rate that’s dramatically outpaced similarly sized cities across the nation. 

Oakland Police Chief Richard Word said Saturday that the department was treating Duda’s death as a homicide pending the outcome of an autopsy. Police said they arrested Duda’s husband at their home Friday night. 

Authorities found Duda’s body Friday afternoon in the Oakland Hills, an area that typically sees less of the violence that has raged throughout the city’s lower-income neighborhoods to the east and west. 

Duda’s death came just two weeks after voters refused to fund Mayor Jerry Brown’s plan to add 100 officers to patrol the city’s hotspots. Critics called for better schools and more job training. 

Brown held an urgent meeting with city leaders and police Wednesday after the year’s 98th and 99th killings, and pledged to stop “people from running around like it’s the wild west.” 

Brown said it’s necessary to crack down immediately on probationers and parolees by getting more agents from the state to supervise the city’s 3,000 residents on parole. 

About half of the 125 victims and suspects were on probation or parole. Oakland Police spokesman George Phillips says nearly every killing has been drug related. 

State Sen. Don Perata also called for the city to reduce the ratio of parolees assigned to Oakland’s parole agents Saturday in a letter to Gov. Gray Davis, Brown, Word and others. 

Plans to stop the carnage include enforcing conditions of release more strictly, focusing on keeping parolees and probationers from associating with other ex-felons. 

City agencies and police also plan to team up to go after owners of properties known for criminal activity. If the owners don’t cooperate, the city could evict them and even demolish the buildings. 

From 1986 to 1995, Oakland averaged 138 killings a year. Then, the booming economy helped reduce crime. The city had 85 homicides last year, its fourth-lowest total in 30 years. 

But in other cities of Oakland’s size, about 406,000 people, the numbers were much lower – 39 murders last year in Sacramento, 25 in Omaha, Neb., and just 17 in Mesa, Ariz.