The long-awaited return of the 57 problem-solving officers -- who attend neighborhood crime meetings and serve as conduits to various city departments to help reduce crime and other nuisance issues -- has been tempered by the fact that Oakland's lowest crime areas will have fewer officers while other high-stress beats will have more.
The problem-solving officers and six supervisors whose salaries were covered by Measure Y were reassigned to patrol duties last year after 80 police officers were laid off in July. Measure BB, approved by voters in November, restores funding for the 63 positions, and the team was brought back earlier this month -- just not in the previous configuration.
Instead of having a separate problem-solving officer, or PSO, assigned to each of the 57 Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council beats, some beats, such as 13X, Y and Z in Montclair, will share one officer while beats that have higher crime rates and other serious problems, such as 20X in Fruitvale, will gain a second officer.
Marleen Sacks, a resident and lawyer who has sued the city for misuse of Measure Y funds, said the ballot measure requires that officers be deployed equally to the 57 beats around the city. Measure BB did not eliminate that requirement, she said.
"For people who live in Montclair, what this essentially means is one PSO for all (three of) those beats, so they are getting a third the level of service they had before," Sacks said. "Everyone
In addition to beat 13, beats 3, 5 (West Oakland), 14 (Adams Point) and 16 (Trestle Glen) will each have one PSO, whereas they used to have two. Beats 4 (Uptown), 6 (Northwest Oakland), 20, 23 (Fruitvale/East Oakland) and 34 (East Oakland) are each gaining an extra officer.
Oakland police spokeswoman Holly Joshi said the new assignments are a response to budget constraints and the loss of more than 120 officers in the past six months. There are 656 sworn officers on the force, down from a high of 839 two years ago.
"We have to be smarter with our resources, so we are doing crime analysis and other research to deploy our resources in the most effective way possible," Joshi said. "We believe what we are doing is legal. Our foremost concern is public safety, and the areas that are stressor beats in the city need to have more resources.
"The PSO's role hasn't changed," she added. "The whole point is community policing, and when we are down this much, the community really has to step up and do its part."
About half of the former PSOs asked to come back and half are new. For a list of beats and PSO assignments, go to InsideBayArea.com/extra.
Ana Martinez is a neighborhood services coordinator assigned to work alongside the community members and problem-solving officers in Fruitvale. After the officers were disbanded last year, community groups stepped up their own efforts to combat crime and nuisance issues rather than sit around wringing their hands, she said. That included merging three separate groups that shared similar concerns and geographical boundaries.
"Because of the budget cuts, the groups were already trying to figure out how they were going to be a resource for neighborhood issues (in the absence of their officers)," Martinez said. "Now that the PSOs are back, it's like an added tool. Community policing does take two. We kept the community side going until the other side caught up."
But Frank Castro, chair of the Greater Rockridge NCPC, said the new officer deployments could discourage community participation.
"My take on it is that if there were 57 NCPC beats, there should have been 57 PSOs (assigned to each one); otherwise you start getting into the issue of my crime is more important than your crime," he said. "The kinds of things that happen in our neighborhood are just as important to us as the shooting and crime that happens in other areas."