OAKLAND -- Concerned about the ongoing and growing issue of crime in Oakland, hills residents discussed proposals to address the citywide police shortage.
Approximately 50 residents on Jan. 10 discussed measures being put before the City Council with District 4 Councilwoman Libby Schaaf, Joe Tuman of Make Oakland Better Now, and Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan.
Schaaf laid out a three-pronged approach that she authored with Vice Mayor Larry Reid.
The plan includes approving funding for an additional police academy to begin in September. One academy is already under way and a second is planned to begin in March. If a third academy is planned for September, recruitment must begin immediately.
Schaaf also proposed to beef up the civilian staff by 21 people, including one person for the crime lab and 20 service technicians. The additional civilian staff will support officers so that they can spend more time fighting crime.
The third proposal is "the very temporary" -- as Schaaf put it -- contracting with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office for additional officers to patrol city streets. The contract would consist of 10 deputies that would work two days a week, 10-hour shifts.
"This is a temporary measure that the residents deserve," said Jordan, referring to the contract with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office. "The bad guys aren't sitting at home (waiting for more officers to graduate from the academies). This is the cheapest, most efficient way to get more officers on the street now."
The three proposals by Schaaf and Reid were unanimously approved by the City Council Finance Committee on Tuesday, and will be voted on by the full council on Jan. 22.
The Police Department currently has 612 officers; the goal is 803 officers; however 900 officers would be ideal to make the city function optimally, Jordan said.
Oakland has hired two consultants, Bob Wasserman, a police strategist from the Strategic Policy Partnership in Boston, and more recently William Bratton, former New York City police commissioner and former police chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, to help restructure the Police Department. Bratton has had success in both cities in reducing crime, but unlike Oakland, both those departments were fully staffed at the time.
"If we don't staff our department, we are throwing our money away," Tuman said.
The total cost of the three proposals is $6.2 million a year, according to Schaaf. There will also be a one-time cost associated with putting the three proposals into effect totaling $4.7 million to cover the screening and training process for the acquisition of additional officers.
Tuman and Schaaf said that Oakland can afford to do this now.
The good news is that unemployment is down 3 percent in Oakland, and tax revenues are increasing, said Schaaf.
There is a budget surplus this year, making it possible to find additional money in the general fund. There is currently an additional $34.8 million in the budget, according to Schaaf. More than $10 .4 million comes from "sustainable economic growth," Schaaf said.
Residents must make their voices heard about their priorities, Tuman said.
"We need to look at the general fund and make tough choices," he said.
Jill Broadhurst, chair of the Montclair Safety Improvement Council agreed.
"We need to have a frank discussion about what programs we really need right now," Broadhurst said.
Critics argued that the proposals should be considered in the context of the overall budget which will be evaluated in six months.
"Oakland can't wait six months to invest in crime-fighting; there is no higher priority," Schaaf said.
There were 131 homicides in Oakland in 2012, 21 more than in 2011 and 36 more than in 2010.
"The trend is going in the wrong direction," Tuman said. "The math and the facts speak for themselves."
There were four separate homicides in the city on Jan. 11.
"I'm encouraged that there is an intermediate step to help this city get out of the catastrophic situation we are in," said Sandra Pohutsky, a Montclair resident and member of the Montclair Safety and Improvement Council Steering Committee. "I fervently hope that the three new council members understand our dire position and will do anything in their power to increase the number of sworn officers in this city."
"I am impressed by Libby's dedication to this issue," said Joe Cristafolo, a Montclair resident. "I think it will be slower than we need, but I feel that the weight of momentum for something to happen is a step in the right direction."
The meeting was organized by the hills Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council and the Montclair Safety Improvement Council.