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Oakland Council Demands Greater Police Presence, By: J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

Tuesday March 14, 2006

By J. Douglas  



With the city of Oakland reeling from an explosion of violent street crime, city council members have scheduled a closed session meeting for this morning (Tuesday, March 14) to learn whether they will have to declare a state of emergency to invoke a new police deployment plan. 

At a People United for a Better Oakland (PUEBLO) police-community meeting at Frisk Middle School in Oakland a week ago, Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker confirmed that he had developed a plan to immediately triple the number of patrol officers on Oakland streets at peak crime times, with no new hiring needed and a decrease in overtime costs. The increased police presence would be managed by assigning officers to overlapping shifts of eight hours (for five days a week), 10 hours (for four days a week), and 12 hours (for three days a week), all to be paid at straight time. 

Tucker is currently negotiating implementation of the plan with the powerful Oakland Police Officers Association union, which is balking at the plan’s projected loss of overtime for its members. But last Tuesday night, with Tucker reporting increases in the city since this time last year of 300 percent for homicides, 127 percent for assaults with a deadly weapon, 100 percent for robberies, and 47 percent for sexual assaults, the council unanimously passed a resolution by District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks (East Oakland) to give the police union a week to agree to Tucker’s proposal. Declaring a state of emergency would allow the city to implement the chief’s deployment plan unilaterally, without union agreement.  

“We talk to our constituents and we hear what you’re saying,” Brooks told a council chamber packed with citizens demanding more police on the streets. “I’m sorry it’s taken this long, but I think we’re going to move fairly quickly from here on in.”  

Last weekend, another group of neighborhood residents rallied in the Fruitvale district—which has also been hard hit by the crime wave—to call for increased police patrols. 

At the earlier PUEBLO meeting, Brooks had charged that Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown—who is running for California attorney general—and Council President Ignacio De La Fuente—who is running to succeed Brown as mayor—had helped to hold up implementation of Tucker’s redeployment plan in order to gain the support of the police officers’ union in their political races. De La Fuente was absent from last Tuesday’s council meeting but spoke at the Saturday Fruitvale area rally. Under the strong mayor law, Brown is not required to attend council meetings. He rarely does and was also not present at Tuesday’s session. 

Tucker is scheduled to report back to councilmembers on the results of those negotiations this morning (Tuesday, March 14) at the 11 a.m. closed session. According to District 2 Councilmember Jane Brunner (North Oakland), councilmembers may hold a special open noon council session “depending on what we get in the report.” Presumably, if no agreement has been reached between the chief and the union, the council will vote on the emergency declaration at the noon session. 

Brunner, who sponsored a separate resolution at last Tuesday’s meeting—also passed unanimously by council—that called for the police department to fill the 89 patrol officer vacancies “absolutely no later than Jan. 1, 2007,” said that the shortage of patrol officers and the current police deployment plan was causing critical police services to be taken out of her district. “I’m tired of fighting for my crime reduction teams not to be taken out of North Oakland,” Brunner said. “Once again, they took them out this week. That’s unacceptable. We should have enough officers on the street that every district has a crime reduction team.” 

The crime reduction teams are small squads of officers that crack down on known crime hot spots. Two years ago, when the CRT was temporarily pulled out of North Oakland to conduct sideshow patrols in East Oakland, the murder rate in North Oakland tripled. 

The Oakland City Council is scheduled to go over details of Brunner’s “full staffing” resolution at its regular March 21 meeting. 

With neighborhood residents rallying outside the council meeting in support of increased police patrols, citizens inside supported the chief’s deployment plan. 

Preston Turner, chair of the Neighborhood Community Police Committee of Beat 27X (Melrose and Maxwell Park), one of the areas heaviest hit by the recent violent crime wave, told councilmembers, “We feel that Chief Tucker’s hands have been tied because of politics. We’d like the mayor, the president of the council [Ignacio De La Fuente], and all of the councilmembers to embrace the chief’s plan and roll it out as soon as possible. The bullets have no eyes.” 

Turner said that recent homicides in the Melrose/Maxwell Park area were “only two or three blocks from my house.” 

Former Oakland School Board member Toni Cook, who had attended the PUEBLO meeting where Brooks and Tucker originally announced the deployment plan, said that she was “horrified to learn that we have to bribe our police officers to do their job.” 

And PUEBLO Executive Director Rashidah Grinage, who has been holding weekly meetings with Tucker on police-community issues, added that “the chief is a professional who has done this type of work for many years. Folks who are looking at their own bank accounts, their own wallets, and their own political careers are putting that over the safety of the citizens of Oakland. We need to look at who is behind blocking this plan, and why.”