OAKLAND -- Clergy members and public safety advocates appealed to Occupy Oakland organizers Thursday to reopen talks with City Hall in light of the city's overworked, understaffed Police Department and the need for extra police vigilance caused by the movement's lack of communication.
The call came in the wake of a day of action that drew about 7,000 people to downtown Wednesday in a mostly peaceful celebration of the Occupy Wall Street movement but which ended in violence and vandalism at night when a fraction of the original crowd began storming buildings, lighting fires and attacking police lines with rocks and explosives.
"We are concerned citizens here to present another perspective on the effects of Occupy activities on Oakland," said Don Link, chairman of the Shattuck Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council, at a news conference.
City officials, including police, have taken a heavier hand dealing with Occupy-related events since the group cut off communications with the city about a week into the group's first encampment outside City Hall in early October. As a result, Link said, the already strained police force finds itself having to keep more officers near the camp to "be ready for anything."
"The result is a draining of neighborhood resources from districts that are in desperate need of police service," Link said. He pointed out that Oakland has one of the highest crime rates in the country and that its police department has shrunk from about 800 officers to about 650 in less than three years.
"By using Oakland as a battlefield for the war on Wall Street, Occupy Oakland is hurting the very people it is trying to help," Link said, adding that he thinks the trouble is not with the camp itself, but with the lack of dialogue.
Geoffrey Collins, a former Community Policing Advisory Board member who organized the news conference, said the police response to Occupy events is slowing the time it takes officers to get to other calls in town. On the night of an Oct. 29 rally, for example, about 180 calls to police were waiting for officers to respond at 9:30 p.m., roughly three times as many as on a usual night, according to police estimates.
Collins was quick to add that the group's request was not about politics.
"Most of us support the goals of Occupy Oakland," Collins said. "All we're doing is asking them, as people who live here, as ministers who practice their faith here, just give us a break. That's really all we're saying."
The Rev. Marcus Lester, who heads a traveling outreach ministry based in Berkeley, said he hopes to reach out to Occupiers at a service he'll hold in the camp on Sunday.
"This group has done a great job of policing their own encampment," Lester said. "We're seeking anything that maintains the peace, that gives our police resources back to our city."
Mayor Jean Quan has invited the camp to contact her every day since a police raid on the first incarnation of the camp Oct. 25 resulted in a huge protest later that day and numerous injuries.
She went so far as to use Twitter to send out her office phone number -- 510-238-3141 -- after protesters stormed a vacant building on 16th Street during Wednesday night's melee.
She said Thursday that several people in the camp, wanting to distance themselves from the vandals bent on giving the camp and movement a bad name, began for the first time reaching out to her office.
But it won't be easy for the camp to trust Quan, police or City Hall after displays of police force shocked numerous Occupiers, said organizer Mario Fernandez, 27. He said several smaller betrayals of trust -- such as police blocking off streets they had promised to leave open to demonstrators -- compounds the problem.
"There would have to be an olive branch on their part, both Quan and the police," Fernandez said. "For the entirety of our movement, we've been quite peaceful. So the use of tear gas and rubber bullets, that's going to be hard to rectify."
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.