OAKLAND -- While police officers met in Edna Brewer Middle School classrooms with residents about neighborhood crime during a town-hall meeting last week, a TV reporter's nearby vehicle was vandalized and $9,000 worth of equipment was stolen.
The town hall meeting, the first in a series called by Mayor Jean Quan, focused on four topics -- crime, public works and infrastructure, youth and economic development. The majority of the roughly 140 attendees were there to hear what police had to say about the increase in crime, a rise that corresponds with the reduction of 200 officer positions since 2008.
The vandalism and theft of the reporter's vehicle and equipment added an upward notch to the police department's chart that shows roughly 7,000 burglaries in Oakland in 2008. Most recent figures show nearly 12,000 burglaries, with the strongest spike occurring from 2011 to 2012.
Robberies and homicides have risen as well, also with the highest spike in robberies and the increase in homicides jumping from just less than 80 in 2010 to about 116 as of the Dec. 5 meeting.
The meeting began with an upbeat welcome by Quan, her new deputy mayor, former state Assemblymember Sandre Swanson, and city employees giving progress reports from their departments. Quan acknowledged the crime issue as a serious one but said she believes the scene is set to begin adding new officers to the force this spring, with continued hiring until the staffing is adequate
District 2 City Councilmember Pat Kernighan said: "The crime rate has been escalating in the past year, and I hear a lot about it. Children on their way to school don't feel safe. This is not business as usual."
Police Chief Howard Jordan and a number of police officers spoke about some of the programs the police department has initiated or is in the process of initiating are "civilianizing" the department with volunteer residents who train to respond to burglary reports by gathering information and evidence when it is safe to do so and providing the information to police. Other programs include working with youth to lead them away from a criminal life and working with early offenders to divert them away from crime.
As to the violent crime issues, Jordan said the department is trying to rebuild its street crime unit so it can focus on that topic alone.
Reviews of the meeting differed. Attendee Joanne Early said she liked it.
"It was very good positive information," she said. "We're so used to negative news. It was nice to see the department heads responsible for running the city."
But attendee Emily Montan was disappointed.
"It was mostly marketing, and I resent that," she said. "I wanted to hear more detail."
After the presentations, several officers met in classrooms with residents and business people from their beats to talk about how the Problem Solving Officer program operates and address concerns. These officers are in touch with the community and are mandated to work on their beats' top problems. They are not patrol officers, though they do go to the neighborhoods they oversee; they are specialists focusing on helping the patrol officers, residents and merchants reduce crime.
Officer Chris Keden encouraged people to attend monthly Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council meetings and stay abreast of what is happening in their neighborhoods by checking their local council websites. Go to http://uncofo.com to get the email address for each neighborhood council website.