OAKLAND -- Police leaders have again overhauled the department's command structure, this time scrapping Oakland's two massive policing zones in favor of five smaller districts that will each be run by a captain responsible for fighting crime and building rapport with residents.

The first two districts, established Saturday, cover the Fruitvale district to the San Leandro border.

Given that the department's last bid at forming more manageable geographic police zones died a quick death, Chief Howard Jordan said he wanted to "beta test" the changes in East Oakland before establishing the three additional districts covering the rest of the city later this year.

Policing districts in East Oakland

The captains will be quasi-chiefs of their districts, functioning both as experts on neighborhood crime issues and the point persons for residents seeking police help.

Each captain will command about 60 officers, including beat officers, school resource officers, problem-solving officers and a crime reduction team. The captains also will convene a community advisory committee to get neighborhood input.

"This is truly an opportunity to bond with the community, listen to their concerns, address their concerns and, more importantly, engage them in the decision-making process," Captain Steven Tull said at a Monday news briefing.

Tull will head District 4, which includes much of the Fruitvale district, and sections of East Oakland and the hills. Captain Ersie Joyner will run District 5 in Deep East Oakland closer to the San Leandro border.

Dividing Oakland into five policing districts was first broached in a 2007 report by two consultants -- Patrick Harnett and William Andrews -- who returned to Oakland this year as part of a consulting team that includes famed police chief Bill Bratton.

The consultants argued that geographic-based districts would make commanders local crime fighting experts, allow top brass to hold them responsible for crime spikes and provide clearer direction for beat officers.

But the department struggled to implement the plan several years ago, citing a shortage of manpower and equipment. Ultimately, the city was divided into three geographical areas, which was then changed to two zones after 80 police officers were laid off.

Jordan said that even though the department has fewer officers than it had then, it is better positioned to make the change now as one police academy graduates Friday and another one is scheduled to graduate in December.

"This is an opportunity for us to retool and look at the right way to do it," he said.

The new command structure doesn't change the patrol assignments for beat officers. Officers still will be called to work outside their assigned districts when call volumes demand it, officials said.

Sgt. Barry Donelan, who heads Oakland's police union, said the success of the plan and the department hinged on increasing the number of officers from 611 -- the lowest staffing level in well over a decade.

"You have to provide the resources to actually be able to police the city in the first place," he said.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.