Dellums to Break Up Police Department

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday November 30, 2007

The administration of Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums moved swiftly to consolidate its recent police 12-hour day arbitration victory, announcing that the Oakland Police Department will be broken up into three “geographically accountable” command areas effective Jan. 19. 

Under the plan, police officers will work exclusively within their command areas, each area under the command of a single captain responsible for activities on a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week basis.  

The new structure will replace OPD’s current shift command structure, in which patrol officers are moved throughout the city wherever needed. Dellums administration and police department officials believe the geographically accountable command structure is the first step towards instituting community policing in Oakland, a system that has long been talked about and called for, but never fully put in place. Officials also hope the move will be a major step in getting a handle on Oakland’s crime problem. 

One of the divisions will cover the North Oakland-West Oakland area, one the East Oakland area from Lake Merritt to High Street, and one from High Street to the San Leandro border. 

The announcement on the geographic division breakup comes only days after a national organization ranked Oakland as the fourth most dangerous city in the nation, and while Dellums is considering the adoption of a detailed community policing plan that would coordinate all of the city’s violence abatement services—from increasing street lighting to moving against problem properties to police actions—through the already existing, geographically based Service Delivery System. 

Dellums also said this week that he was preparing a list of six or eight proposals to present to Oakland City Council in the near future to increase both the number of police officers recruited by the Oakland Police Department and the number who actually make it through the academy and hiring process.  

Oakland currently has approximately 719 officers, 300 of them patrol officers, some 80 short of the authorized strength of 803. City and police officials have conducted an intense recruitment campaign in recent years to bring the department up to full strength, but the city has been hampered by the fact that only 50 officers are actually hired out of every 1,000 who respond to the recruitment. 

In addition, some Oakland community groups have been calling for an increase in the police strength to as many as 1,100. No group, however, has yet offered a plan how that number of police would be recruited or retained, or paid for if they were actually hired. 

While the geographical division plan has been in existence for years, OPD Chief Wayne Tucker said that it was impossible to fully implement under the district’s 10-hour shift pattern. Tucker proposed moving to 12-hour shifts, which he said would allow entire groups of officers to be assigned exclusively to one of the three proposed geographic areas in the city. The Oakland Police Officers Association police union opposed the 12-hour shift plan and the matter went to arbitration, where an arbitrator ruled in Tucker’s favor earlier this month. 

Flanked by police officials and key City Councilmembers at a press conference held Tuesday at Oakland’s Martin Luther King Jr. Way Emergency Operations Center, Dellums called the move to the geographical command structure a “major step forward. This is more than symbolic change. This is real change towards our goal of safety in Oakland.” 

Deputy Police Chief Howard Jordan, speaking for an absent Chief Wayne Tucker, who was called to court on police arbitration matters, said the new system “gives us the opportunity to manage and respond to crime trends” in specific geographic areas in a way that is not currently possible, adding that the department has already begun meeting with groups and residents to explain the new system, with a Dec. 11 public presentation scheduled. Jordan said that the department has been phasing in the new structure for months, and expects it to be fully operational when the department switches over on Jan. 19. Still, he asked the public to be “patient and supportive” during the transition period before expecting full results. 

Councilmember Jean Quan was upbeat about the new system, saying it will make her constituent responsibilities much easier. 

“Currently, if someone asks me about a specific crime committed in my district, I have to find out which particular shift the crime occurred on before I know which commander to go to,” Quan said.  

In addition, she said that under the present shift command structure “we can’t look at crime trends properly because they happen over different shifts” with different commanders, different ways of collecting information and reporting problems, and different methods of attacking the problems. Under the new structure, Quan said, “now I know that a single captain is responsible for my area.”  

Quan added that the new geographical division structure will allow the police department to move from merely responding to 9-1-1 calls to “having more responsibility to look at the sources of the crime problems.” 

But Community Policing Advisory Board Chair Don Link was more cautious, saying that while he supports the structure change, “the devil is in the details. A change in the attitude and the culture of the police department must take place as well.”  

Link said he would be “watching carefully” to see that the structure change actually results in “24-hour protection” for Oakland citizens.  

Former Oakland Police Department tech writer Phil McArdle, who has written a book on the history of the department for the Arcadia Publishing Images of America series, said in an interview this week that OPD operated under a geographic division structure in the early part of the last century, with precincts run by individual captains. McArdle said that corruption among some of the precinct heads forced the city to consolidate into its current citywide command structure during the 1950s. 

Former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown moved briefly towards the re-establishment of police geographic divisions following the recommendations of a consultant’s report, but later abandoned the effort. Council Public Safety Committee Chair Larry Reid said that during the time geographical divisions were in operation “we had some reduction in crime in my district.”  

Reid said that with the return of the system, he was confident that “this city will, in fact, be a safer city.” 

Asked at the press conference who should get credit for the geographic division plan, since it was first introduced by Brown, Dellums said that while he would like to take credit himself, “this has been an evolutionary process. In the last election, the people spoke clearly that they wanted the city to embrace community policing. Along the way, other people wanted to get there, but the beauty of this moment is, we’re here now.”