Crime is falling nationwide, but not so in Oakland.
Violent crime in the city is up about 20 percent over last year to date. Earlier this month, seven people were murdered in seven days, making it the bloodiest week in about four years, according to the Oakland Tribune.
Forum host Michael Krasny spoke with Oakland Tribune columnist Tammerlin Drummond today about what the city’s doing to address the problem.
“The violence issue is so huge, that we seem to be almost paralyzed by it,” Drummond said. “The problem is, people want instant solutions, but we’re not really, as a community, willing to roll up our sleeves and do the work and look at some of these difficult issues and their core roots.” Drummond said Oakland’s leadership is caught in an ideological battle, arguing over whether to spend public safety money on social programs or to put more officers on the ground. “You need a comprehensive public safety plan that’s going to address both of those issues,” he said.
Junious Williams Jr., CEO of the Urban Strategies Council, told Krasny that “we’re not going to police our way out of this,” and that youth in Oakland have been failed educationally. About a third of Oakland high school students drop out before graduation.
According to the state Employment Development Department, Oakland’s unemployment rate is 14 percent–the highest of any city in Alameda County.
Williams says these factors and others contribute to gang and drug activity. Callers to the show complained about open-air drug markets, prostitution, rampant illegal dumping, and frequent gunfire. One Oakland resident called the police department “dysfunctional.”
Police Chief Howard Jordan responded this way: “We don’t believe the department is dysfunctional. We have challenges… I make no excuses about the past. The past is the past for me. I’m looking to the future.”
Jordan said the city will fund three police academies over the next year to reduce attrition (Oakland loses about four officers a month) and increase the number of officers. “We’ll start to see the benefits of this recruitment push probably this time next year.”
Jordan says the department is also being re-organized to bring in civilians for desk jobs, freeing up sworn officers for patrol.
The Oakland Police Department has been heavily criticized for failing to come into compliance with a 2003 Negotiated Settlement Agreement stemming from the “Riders” police brutality scandal. The latest report from the federal court monitor found OPD has not made any improvement in satisfying the remaining unaddressed stipulations of the agreement.
Jim Chanin, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the Riders case, has said he will file a motion for receivership by October if dramatic improvements aren’t made.
Brenda Grisham’s son was killed in street violence in Oakland in 2010. Now Grisham is Executive Director of the Christopher Lavell Jones Foundation, named in honor of her son. She told Krasny the community needs to take some responsibility.
“These parents need to step up and understand it started in your house.” Grisham said. “You need to grab those kids back.”