Public Comment

Dellums Fails to Address Oakland’s Crime Problem

By Jeffrey G. Jensen
Friday November 09, 2007

Daily Planet columnist J. Douglas Allen-Taylor has been an un-abashed apologist for Mayor Dellums for too long. In a petty feud with Chip Johnson of the San Francisco Chronicle, he uses his recent column to belabor the non-issue that Chip has been treating Mayor Dellums more harshly than former Mayor Brown. In the process, Allen-Taylor sadly misses the real story. Crime in Oakland is out of control and Mayor Dellums has failed to articulate a detailed action plan to address it. I for one applaud Chip Johnson’s tenacity in reporting the issue of crime. The Reader’s Platform in the San Francisco Chronicle relates the growing frustration residents face day after day with ever increasing crime and unresponsive and overworked police. Admittedly, Mayor Dellums did not create Oakland’s crime problem, but he has a responsibility to address it. 

In October of 2006, USA Today reported a list of the most dangerous cities using FBI figures and found that of 371 cities nationwide, Oakland ranked 364. Only seven other cities, including the likes of St. Louis, Detroit, and Compton, were more dangerous than Oakland. According to CityRating.Com, which also uses FBI statistics, Oakland’s 2003 murder rates were 3.50 times the national average, robberies were 2.78 times the national average, and all violent crimes were 2.31 times the national average. Yet Oakland has half the police. According to the U.S. Justice Department, Oakland Police have 18 sworn police officers per 10,000 residents. Other comparable communities have anywhere between 23 and 49 sworn police officers per 10,000 residents. This means that each Oakland officer must respond to more major crimes than in comparable cities. 

My community of North Oakland has been plagued with crimes, including murders, armed robberies of stroller pushing moms, brazen laptop snatchings, serial burglaries and the ubiquitous street corner drug dealing. Neighbors are working to deter crime through crime prevention councils and neighborhood walking groups. But criminals run amok, and they know police response is limited. Police complain there are not enough officers to respond to crimes, dispatch personnel are overworked, and the DA has a catch and release program. Police catch the criminals, and the DA releases them. One Oakland Officer conceded while it is illegal to carry a concealed weapon, perhaps it would be safer to do so rather than rely on the Oakland police to respond to a call for help.  

I attended the Oct. 13 town hall meeting to hear Mayor Dellum’s plans for Oakland, including addressing the pervasive issue of crime. The single biggest issue raised by most speakers at the meeting was crime. One speaker even referred to Oakland as the model city for crime, something that Mayor Dellums belittled and J. Douglas Allen-Taylor didn’t report. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to see Mayor Dellums is still long on rhetoric about solving poverty, an intractable issue that has plagued the United States for years and that no big city mayor has ever resolved, and far short on the details for getting more police on the streets to deter crime and allow residents to feel safe in their neighborhoods. That is not to say that addressing poverty in the long run isn’t part of the solution.  

Seemingly out of touch, Mayor Dellums had the audacity to lecture North Oakland residents and tell us that now that crime is pervasive in middle- and upper-class communities that people are concerned. And since crime is no longer restricted to the ghettos or the barrios, we need to put our money where our mouth. It has been widely reported that Mayor Dellums is reluctant to hire more police than Measure Y calls for because he does not want a police state. As simplistic as it sounds Mayor Dellums, more police on patrol in our neighborhoods and on the street will deter crime. See what New York City has done focusing on small quality of life issues, and what Colorado Springs and other cities of a comparable size have done. Equating more police to having a police state is simply irresponsible and misguided. 

According to Forbes Magazine, Alameda County has on average some of the highest property taxes in the country. Yet we are not getting basic local government services such as adequate police and are being asked by our mayor to pay even more. We have passed Measure Y for more police services, only to see the city fail to hire enough police. While solving poverty is a laudable goal, and something that needs a long-term plan with state and federal government assistance, we need relief in the short term to allow residents to feel safe and to encourage more private investment. If the mayor wants more discretionary funding to provide social programs, such as reintegrating parolees into the community and providing early intervention programs for at risk youth, then the trade-off is to encourage private investment that provides additional property, transfer, and sales taxes. Local economic development is not about pushing aside undesirable communities and undesirable residents, as J. Douglas Allen-Taylor posits, but is about bringing jobs and hope to Oakland residents, providing a funding source for the mayor’s desire to address the concentrations of poverty in Oakland. 

The residents of Oakland want Mayor Dellums to stand up and provide leadership on this issue. We want specifics, a timetable for action and responsible parties in the City of Oakland identified to implement a comprehensive plan that focuses on hiring more police officers and ensuring morale in the department improves. We don’t want tired rhetoric. Residents want safe neighborhoods, clean streets, paved roads and economic development. We want the basics of local government. We have already spoken with Measure Y. As a community we have already put our money where our mouth is. We know that Mayor Dellums is no Superman, but it is time that he stood up and show the leadership that we all expected. The devil is in the details. Otherwise, move over and let Ignacio De La Fuente run this city. 


Jeffrey G. Jensen is a North Oakland resident.