A spike in violent crimes in recent weeks is putting pressure on Oakland City Hall to answer hard questions about how to stem the violence.
But little consensus exists among city leaders about what steps need to be taken next.
Mayor Jean Quan is focusing on rehiring some of the 80 laid-off police officers and drawing support from federal law enforcement. She has been critical of proposals to create a youth curfew and expand gang injunctions into West Oakland and East Oakland, where the violence is most pronounced. She hasn't outright rejected either plan, but she said she'd prefer anti-loitering laws and individual injunctions.
That isn't enough, say City Council President Larry Reid (Elmhurst-East Oakland) and Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale), who are fighting for both the curfew and injunction expansion.
"The criminals in our city do not hesitate to use their weapons; we shouldn't hesitate to use ours," they said in a recent joint statement. "Oakland residents need to stand up and demand that those of us in power use all the weapons at our disposal to battle these lawless individuals."
De La Fuente said he's dismayed by opponents of the Fruitvale gang injunction, which targets 40 individuals accused of being members of the Norteños street gang, and is still making its way through the courts almost a year after the city attorney and police chief announced it. Community activists opposed to the lawsuit say more money needs to be spent on intervention and prevention, providing options for troubled youths that could steer them away from crime.
"They talk like we haven't been doing any of that, like the injunction is the first thing we tried," De La Fuente said. "It's not. We've had Kids First for years. We've had Measure Y programs for years. This is the last thing we tried."
But a gang injunction in North Oakland hasn't proved to be effective, said Councilwoman Desley Brooks (Eastmont-Seminary).
Police records show that while 14 gang members named in the North Oakland injunction last year haven't been convicted of any new crimes since, serious crime in the area has still seen a slight increase.
Brooks said the city needs to renew its contract with ShotSpotter, a technology that records gunshots and can offer police the time, precise location and even the direction of gunshots. Oakland had the technology for years until the contract expired in 2009. A contract was set to go before the council in July, but was pulled by police Chief Anthony Batts when he was unable to secure the $254,000 needed to pay for the program.
That the contract elapsed is unacceptable, Brooks said, especially because Batts had warned months ago that this summer would likely see a spike in violence.
Brooks and police officials met with the vendor this week and say they hope to bring the issue back to City Hall when the council reconvenes in mid-September.
As Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan (at-large) puts it, the violence problem begins with guns, and the city needs to set an official policy that controlling the circulation of illegal firearms is its top law enforcement priority.
"We have to set that policy, and then we have to make it mean something," by giving police the tools they ask for, Kaplan said.
The options are many, and "I'm open to considering any of those things," said Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Pat Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown). But much of what the council can do, especially in terms of broad policy changes, will have delayed effects, and "we need relief now."
"Mainly what we need to do is support the police chief in what he thinks will be helpful," Kernighan said. "And secondly, we must do everything we can to give him the resources he needs and keep up the number of officers."
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.