OAKLAND -- One year ago, Oakland's high-profile new police consultant said the city's beleaguered Police Department was essentially a lost cause. Now he calls it "a very interesting challenge."

William Bratton, who gained notoriety for reducing crime as the police chief in New York City and Los Angeles, will soon step foot in Oakland for the first time in about a decade to help deal with a crime wave that is moving into its third year.

"No one is denying there is a crisis in your city," Bratton said Friday from his office in Manhattan. "The good news is that out of crises, you get opportunities."

The Oakland Police Department has spiraled from one crisis to another this year. It faces unprecedented federal oversight for not following through with court-ordered reform. And officers have been faulted both for being too aggressive in policing protests and for not being aggressive enough fighting crime in a city that averages more than 11 robberies and 33 burglaries a day.

Morale is low, officers say, and so is staffing. Oakland has lost more than one-quarter of its force in the past four years.

"Let's face it," Bratton said. "In Oakland, unfortunately, you have a very small police force and a very large set of problems."


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Assuming the City Council approves a $250,000 contract, Bratton will arrive in February as part of a team that will include former Hartford, Conn., police Chief Patrick Harnett, as well as longtime police consultants Robert Wasserman and William Andrews. Harnett and Andrews did an assessment of Oakland's police force in 2006, and they are working with Bratton as consultants in Detroit.

Former Los Angeles police Chief William J. Bratton
Then-Los Angeles police Chief William J. Bratton, center, and his top brass listen to City Council President Eric Garcetti speak during a news conference with city leaders at Los Angeles City Hall on May 2, 2007. (Kevork Djansezian/AP file)

Between them, the consultants will spend about 40 to 50 days in Oakland, said Bratton, who last month stepped down as head of a private risk management firm. He expected his team to do consulting work for about five cities this year.

The initial work will focus on CompStat, the data management and crime-tracking system Bratton developed and Oakland recently adopted. The larger project will focus on helping police design and implement a comprehensive crime-reduction strategy.

Bratton is best known for having his officers target smaller quality of life offenses and giving them relatively wide latitude to stop and search suspects. Neither tactic has been used in Oakland where staffing shortages make it hard to prioritize minor crimes and the Police Department is under intense scrutiny from a federal judge about how it deals with suspects.

Bratton acknowledged that the so-called stop-and-frisk tactic is "an issue in your city," but defended the practice as a basic tool of policing. "The challenge is to make sure they're doing it lawfully and compassionately," he said. "It can't just be in certain areas of the city."

Bratton said the crime-reduction strategies will include input from all stakeholders including a soon-to-be-appointed court officer who will have expansive powers over the department to ram through unmet reform goals.

"We won't be operating in a vacuum," Bratton said. "The idea is to be a significant part of that collaboration."

When he told The Wall Street Journal last year that he saw little hope for Oakland police, he cited the abundance of outside oversight and the lack of officers and support from city leaders.

Despite recent clashes on the council over youth curfews and gang injunctions, Bratton said he now sees a city that is coming together to fight crime.

"One of the reasons I opted to accept this assignment is that crime is a unifying force for your leadership," he said. "That's the good news. When you can get that level of cooperation and agreement around an issue, you can do many good things."

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.