OAKLAND -- Twenty-five more police officers will join a shrinking department in the fight against the city's rising crime rate, concentrating on vulnerable middle schools, thanks to a federal grant announced Wednesday.
The city won the $10.7 million grant from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, one of the largest awarded to several cities across California. It provided Oakland with the highest number of officers allowed by the COPS grants.
The officers will be focused on a community-policing effort at four middle schools in high-crime neighborhoods, as well as working on the twin problems of human trafficking and the prostitution of teenage girls, police Chief Anthony Batts said.
"A lot of what we need to do is build better relationships between our police and our youth," said Batts, explaining that officers will be used to patrol in those areas and to mentor students. "We need to get them to see that uniform in a positive light. We're too often seen in suppression mode."
Batts said the four middle schools have not yet been chosen. Among those under consideration are West Oakland, Havenscourt, Roosevelt and Madison as well as the Alliance Academy and Elmhurst Community Prep school campus.
The idea to focus on middle schools came from Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith, Batts said.
School district spokesman Troy Flint said middle schools serve children who are "at a very difficult stage."
"Kids that age are a little more prone to temptation, engaging in behaviors we want to steer them away from," Flint said.
The threat of violence -- both committed by and threatening to the students -- becomes quite a bit greater beginning in middle school, he added.
Grants also went to several other Northern California cities, including $2.8 million to Salinas, $1.7 million to San Jose, $7.8 million to Stockton and $8.1 million to Sacramento.
The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department got the only grant in the state larger than Oakland's, with $11.3 million.
In a news conference Wednesday, COPS Director Bernard Melekian said Oakland won such a large amount by tackling a specific problem with a comprehensive plan that focused on partnering police with community organizations and other neighborhood stakeholders.
The economic downfall of the last two years has been devastating to law enforcement efforts, costing at least 10,000 police officer and sheriff's deputy jobs nationwide, Melekian said.
That reduced force means community policing is more important than ever, he said.
"The agencies being funded today are leaders in the field," Melekian said. "They have maximized resources and stand out nationally as examples for other agencies."
Though the money is already available, Oakland's 25 new officers won't hit the streets for at least a month, Batts said, since they will need some training. They include:
Staffing remains a challenge for Oakland police. When Batts took office in October 2009 he commanded a force of 803 officers, which has since diminished to 650, and is expected to shrink further in the coming year.
A police academy has been scheduled for July 2012, but would not bring any new officers into active duty for 18 months. Batts said Wednesday he's asking Mayor Jean Quan to help find money to push forward the start date of that academy to January.
Homicides, shootings and other violent crimes this year are seeing double-digit increases over 2010.
Quan has authorized the rehire of 38 laid-off officers since she took office in January, but the department is also contending with an attrition rate of about four officers per month as officers either get hurt or retire.
Oakland won a $41 million COPS grant in 2009, which paid for 41 officers for three years. That money will continue to pay for officers until next summer, at which point the city is obligated to pay them an additional year of employment.
That obligation is the main reason why the projected budget shortfalls floating around City Hall in June jumped from $58 million for the current fiscal year to $76 million in the next fiscal year that begins next July, according to the city administrator's office.
Oakland will face the same obligation in July 2014 for the 25 officers about to be hired.
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.