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Oakland Grapples with Measure Y Police Deployments

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday September 19, 2006

With growing community concerns over what some local media outlets are calling the “shocking escalation” in Oakland’s murder rates, Oakland officials are trying to settle a simmering dispute between the city’s two major citizen law enforcement advisory groups and its police department over the allocation of scarce police resources. 

On one side of the dispute is the 15-member Community Policing Advisory Board (CPAB), formed by the City Council in 1998 “for overseeing, monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the city’s community policing policy.” 

On the other side is the 11-member Violence Prevention and Public Safety Oversight Committee, formed to monitor implementation of Oakland’s 2004 Measure Y anti-violence ordinance. 

In addition, Oakland Police Department officials form a third faction in the dispute. 

At issue is how the police department will allocate the 63 additional police officers authorized and funded by Measure Y. 

On Saturday, the advisory board and the oversight committee held a joint retreat at Niles Hall in Preservation Park to try to iron out some of the differences. Also attending were several representatives of the Oakland Police Department, including Chief Wayne Tucker. 

Under Measure Y, the 63 new “community policing” officers were to be divided between Oakland’s 57 community policing of beats, with one neighborhood beat officer assigned to each beat, with the remaining officers assigned to school safety, OPD’s crime reduction team, and domestic violence and child abuse intervention. 

Former Oakland City Councilmember Danny Wan, who drafted the language that eventually became Measure Y, said that the number of new officers funded in the measure was taken by subtracting the 14 police officers assigned to a specific police beat in 2004 from Oakland’s 57 police beats. 

“That meant we needed a minimum of 43 additional officers in order to completely staff all of the beats,” he said. “We figured that 20 officers over that figure would meet the other needs called for in the measure.” 

But Oakland police, trying to spread an understaffed department over a city that is erupting in murderous violence, are chafing at the restrictions in Measure Y that officially restrict the community policing officers to each of the 57 beats “assigned solely to serve the residents of that beat to provide consistent contact and familiarity between residents and officers, continuity in problem solving and basic availability of police response in each neighborhood.” 

One police sergeant told Saturday’s retreat participants that the one officer per beat rule is unrealistic. 

“The reality is, every call must be done in two’s,” the sergeant said. “That’s how our officers are trained; that’s how they operate for safety purposes in order to secure a scene. A beat officer can answer telephone calls and do paperwork, but doing effective work in their beat requires bringing in another patrol officer from somewhere.” 

OPD Captain Dave Kozicki said that meant that the police department “needs some flexibility in our deployment of officers, which we don’t presently have.” 

Last June, in explaining the position of the CPAB on community policing in a local blog, CPAB Vice Chair Colleen Brown wrote that “the CPAB understands that the police department is understaffed and may need to have focused enforcement or assignments to patrol. However, don’t call it community policing and/or have Measure Y funds pay for it. Patrol needs to be paid for out of general funds. PSOs [Problem Solving Officers, the official name of the Measure Y officers] are working where OPD wants them, not necessarily the community. Finally, OPD should not be able to change the definition of community policing or the roles and responsibilities of PSOs as defined in Council Resolution 72727 [the 1998 resolution originally defining community policing] at will or without negotiating with the larger community. The current staffing situation is short term but once OPD is allowed to change the definitions, roles, or responsibilities, community policing will be lost.“ 

Meanwhile, members of the Violence Preventation and Public Safety Oversight Committee say that while they also support flexibility, they are charged with making sure the city and the police department implement the terms and language of the measure as it was passed by the voters. That language, they said, sometimes brings them into conflict with the wishes of community members or police officials who may want the police deployed in a manner different from what committee members believe is called for in the measure. 

Saturday’s retreat was not intended to reach a resolution of the conflict but, according to retreat organizers, was to bring the various sides together “as a first step.” Among other things, members of the two oversight committees and representatives of the police department suggested regular meetings in the future to try to resolve the differences.