The Interstate 580 overpass named for Sgt. Mark Dunakin, Sgt. Ervin Romans, Sgt. Daniel Sakai and Officer John Hege honors the four Oakland officers who were shot and killed by a parolee in 2009. It is a grim reminder of how dangerous it can be to be a police officer in Oakland.
Last July, criminal suspects shot out the windows of a California Highway Patrol cruiser with the patrolman inside -- he was, thankfully, not injured -- while an accomplice in another vehicle tried to ram the same patrolman's car. In late January, an Oakland police officer confronted a man with a gun who shot him in the leg.
It shouldn't be news to anyone that policing in Oakland can be dangerous business. Officers get wounded, sometimes fatally. Cruisers are damaged.
You would think the issue of who has to cover the costs associated with officer injuries or equipment damage would have come up when Oakland city officials negotiated a three-month contract with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office to conduct weekend patrols in East and West Oakland.
Yet for some reason, the question of who would pay -- the county or the city -- in the event of an officer injury only became an issue after a deputy was shot in the foot last month during a traffic stop. The driver was fatally wounded.
The county is paying workers' compensation and other costs resulting from the shooting but had informed Oakland it would have to pay for those expenses in the future.
Oakland officials refused. So the Alameda County sheriff pulled the plug and let the contract expire. Those 11 sheriff's deputies who were patrolling weekends in East and West Oakland assisting the Oakland Police Department's thin force in some of the city's highest crime areas? Gone. Many people -- including Councilwoman Libby Schaaf, who first got the ball rolling with the sheriff's department patrols, were not happy to find out about the deal-killing impasse in the newspaper. Saturday was the last day of the sheriff's patrols.
It looked as though bureaucracy would once again trump public safety in Oakland.
But then a mad scramble. Late Monday, Oakland officials announced that they had struck a deal with the CHP to up their current patrols in Oakland from two days to four -- making up for the loss of the Alameda County deputies. The proposal will go before the City Council for a vote May 7. The CHP is not requiring Oakland to foot the costs for officer injuries.
The current CHP deal was set to expire Friday. According to a statement released by Mayor Jean Quan's office Monday, the CHP has agreed to expand its patrols to four days a week while Oakland officials finalize the new deal.
The 10 CHP officers for an extra two days a week -- plus two supervisors -- averted the disaster of the sheriff's pullout. Oakland police officials had called the CHP and county patrols "urgent" to provide high visibility patrols and traffic enforcement that OPD with its depleted patrol ranks can't provide.
It's unclear what effect these recent developments will have on the city's separate pending request before Alameda County supervisors to fund two additional days of sheriff's patrols.
Yet none of these crisis measures is a long-term solution to Oakland's public safety problem.
City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan noted that Oakland must expand its own police force, which can only be accomplished by holding multiple police academies and lowering the pay of new recruits so Oakland -- which has one of the nation's highest-paid police forces -- can afford more officers.
"The fact is you can't expect a police department to be so dramatically understaffed and expect it to work effectively," Kaplan said.
Now if only everyone in Oakland felt that way.