OAKLAND -- Changes to the Oakland police command structure and close attention to neighborhood problems will help reduce crime in the city, a member of the department said.
Police Capt. Anthony Toribio outlined the strategy at a July 31 public safety meeting called by District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb. It was the second public meeting Kalb organized to address crime problems within the district. This meeting, held at The College Preparatory School, involved North Oakland homeowners in the Rockridge, Upper Rockridge, North Temescal and Piedmont Avenue neighborhoods.
Toribio is the captain in charge of the area under a new reorganization plan that assigns one captain to each geographic area rather than covering two similar districts, as had been past practice. The meeting allowed residents to bring up crime issues and learn how they could solve them with police cooperation. Under the old system, Toribio didn't have time to closely monitor each area and come up with solutions because of a lack of time.
"It made it difficult to get into the weeds and manage personnel, "he said.
Under the new plan, which was recommended by a consulting firm, Toribio is in charge of every aspect of policing his geographic area. This arrangement allows him to be more responsive to the public and have greater input on managing his supervisors and officers. The staff includes seven Problem Solving Officers, who work with residents on specific neighborhood problems, an approach sometimes called community policing. Like other areas of the city, North Oakland has seen an overall increase in robberies, which Toribio identified as the "number-one public safety issue that we have."
Most robberies occur on the streets between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. on weekdays and involve one or more armed suspects who walk away or leave in cars after confronting a victim. But there may be cause for optimism. Robberies and auto burglaries have decreased since the reorganization four months ago, Toribio said.
"The last couple of months, crime has gone down. I think it's still too early to tell until we run this out a bit more, but I'm very optimistic with where we are right now," he said.
Though the number of robberies varies between police beats, the area bordered by West Grand Avenue, 40th Street, Telegraph Avenue and Harrison Street has been especially active, the captain said. Robbers single out the neighborhoods because they have access to major thoroughfares to make their escape. These neighborhoods are also what Toribio called "target-rich environments" for crooks who take advantage of distracted victims who may not see the criminals coming.
"There are a lot of people on foot. They are not paying attention," he said. "Frequently, they are on their phones. "
Auto burglaries have occurred in the Telegraph Avenue area along Piedmont Avenue and Howe Street, the captain said. Unlocked cars or vehicles in which valuable items can be seen through the locked windows can be tempting targets, as Toribio discovered while walking along Piedmont Avenue.
"I was amazed at how many vehicles had items that were attractive to steal," he said.
Toribio offered residents a number of safety tips including:
One resident complained that police often don't seem to be available, which has led to crime on many North Oakland streets. Kalb said the department is understaffed but the recently passed city budget contains funds for hiring and training new officers.
By running two police academies a year, the force could grow from 630 personnel currently to 700 or even 800, though Kalb admitted that's not likely to happen overnight.
The department is in the process of hiring more civilians to handle evidence processing and other vital services, Kalb said. Thirty rookies just graduated from the latest academy and five of them will be assigned to North Oakland beats, Toribio added.