Recently, Oakland graduated 38 new officers from one of several planned police academies. The academy, with two more to follow, is part of Oakland's newly revealed crime-reduction plan aimed at stemming the spate of violence on the streets, bringing the department into compliance with the federal consent decree and rebuilding trust with the community.
More recently, an Oakland Police Department officer shot a teenager in the face when a bystander misidentified him and two other youth of color as those responsible for a nearby robbery. While the young man fortunately was not severely injured, the incident underscores what policing really looks like in Oakland.
Oakland already spends more than half its general fund on policing and continues to prioritize the squandering the city's limited resources in employing policing as a cure-all. However, when we pull away all the costs and the media hype, what are Oakland communities left with?
On April 9, the Public Safety Committee of the Oakland City Council convened a special meeting at the Fremont High School auditorium. The agenda included the approval of a contract for technical assistance for Operation Ceasefire and a report from OPD Chief Howard Jordan on the crime-reduction plan.
Jordan made it clear that his central mission is to reduce violence in Oakland by using Ceasefire. What struck me at the meeting were the contradictions inherent in the plan and the rhetoric. More than once Jordan stated "We can't arrest our way out of the problem."
He added that Ceasefire gives people a chance to turn their lives around and reduces recidivism. Yet, in flaunting the results of recent Ceasefire raids, he reported that 60 people had been arrested and showed the faces of some individuals on a screen citing that one is looking at 13 years in prison.
In theory, Ceasefire pairs services with deterrence, creating a potential pathway away from violence and gang life. At the meeting, a representative for the Department of Health and Human Services noted that funds for these services come from Measure Y money as opposed to any money on the table for Ceasefire. To date, only five individuals have been connected with these services. The reality is that using Ceasefire prioritizes resources for raids, surveillance and harassment over services.
Oakland's unemployment rate hovers around 13 percent. One-third of Oakland's public school libraries have been closed for years and another third are only open part-time and staffed by volunteers. A deepening budget shortfall through 2018 threatens everything from union jobs to infrastructure upkeep. Yet, the No. 1 question the city keep prioritizing is whether Oakland can come up with the $299 million to return OPD staffing to the benchmark of 830 officers.
Oakland is indeed in crisis. Studies show a direct correlation between social and economic ills including unemployment, lack of affordable housing and lack of access to education to increases in violence on the streets. What if we invested $229 million in jobs, affordable housing and improving the Oakland Unified School District?
The possibilities are much more expansive than the current plan, which only serves to cycle more low income people of color into jails and prisons, increases joblessness and poverty and fails the majority of Oakland residents.
Jay Donahue is an Oakland resident.