OAKLAND -- Faced with rising crime and a shrinking force, Oakland's embattled police department is speeding ahead with a plan to scale back its community policing program to free up more officers to fight violent crime.
The department on Saturday began reassigning problem-solving community police officers to crime reduction teams enabling the department to put more resources in higher-crime parts of the city.
Chief Howard Jordan announced the reassignment at a Wednesday news conference during which he was asked about the recent flurry of criticism besieging the department.
Over the past month Oakland police have been stung by critical reports of its crime lab, radio system, and handling of the first Occupy protest.
On Monday, a federal monitor questioned the department's willingness to comply with court-ordered reforms that later this year could result in a federal takeover of the department. And Wednesday, the City Auditor released a report finding that police misspent nearly $2 million over five years on technology systems it never used or rarely used.
Jordan said Wednesday that he was concerned all the bad news was hurting staff morale, but otherwise remained upbeat about the department's future.
"These are all problems that can be fixed," he said, adding that the department expected to quickly find a solution for the city's year-old $18 million radio system that has repeatedly failed.
Jordan said that although major crimes are up about 20 percent this year, the crime rate has dropped in recent months, and the homicide rate would be 10 percent lower than last year if not for the shootings at Oikos University.
Police are getting more tips and community cooperation in solving crimes in recent months, he said. "That is a big turning point for this department."
Jordan refused to comment on the possible federal takeover of the department or the revelation this week that photos of Mayor Jean Quan and U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson, who is African-American and overseeing department reforms, were posted on a bulletin board in police headquarters and defaced in way that Internal Affairs found to be racist.
Wednesday's news conference was called to respond to the city auditor's report that faulted the department for not performing due diligence before purchasing technology systems and for not adequately managing or tracking the systems after buying them.
Jordan challenged several of the auditor's findings, but accepted that the department had to do a better job with its technology systems.
He said a recently hired consultant and a soon-to-be-hired technology officer should help the department make progress.
"I don't take (the report) lightly," Jordan said. "We did not set out to squander $2 million. My job is to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Jordan told the City Council's Public Safety Committee last month that he planned to reassign several of the problem-solving officers, but said the move wouldn't happen until after he unveiled his plan to the City Council in September.
Since then, the chief has been meeting with council members to go over the reassignment plan that would create three new crime reduction teams and explain why it needed to begin immediately, council members said.
Jordan's plan, which is being phased in over several months, calls for placing a single problem-solving officer in each one of the city's 35 police beats, rather than the much smaller 57 community policing beats -- providing up to 22 officers for the crime reduction teams.
The plan deprives some neighborhoods of a dedicated officer to meet with community leaders and address their concerns, but it provides the department with the flexibility to concentrate officers anywhere in the city plagued by violent crime.
A similar plan, initiated last year by then-Chief Anthony Batts faced opposition in the Hills, where several residents said the city was violating the 2004 voter-approved ballot measure that funds the problem-solving officers.
That measure anticipated Oakland's police force would number more than 800 officers, as it did just over two years ago. But the force is now down to 643 officers, leaving many council members feeling as if they have little choice but to scale back community policing.
"I know he's going to catch some flak from some of the folks," Councilmember Larry Reid said. "But he has to do what he has to do to reduce the level of violence on the streets because it's getting insane in Oakland."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6345.