OAKLAND — Police Chief Anthony Batts said Thursday that he will ask for federal help in reducing violent crime in the city, and a summit scheduled to be held in August will draw those agencies to town to hammer out some details.
The two-day summit scheduled for late August will bring "the alphabet soup of federal agencies," including the FBI, DEA, ATF and ICE, U.S. Attorney Joe Russoniello said. Those federal officials will meet first with community leaders to discuss what type of help is most needed, Russoniello said, and on the second day they will meet with local government and police officials to discuss specifics.
"This will be modeled on a gang violence summit we did in Salinas last September," Russoniello said. That program resulted in "a singular success." In 2008 and 2009, Salinas saw 53 gang-related murders. The city has had only four so far this year.
"When Chief Batts came on, obviously he was aware of what happened in Salinas," Russoniello said. "He instigated the discussion, and this was something that was very welcome."
The summit is in the final planning stages, with federal agencies being lined up to participate, Russoniello said, adding that he plans to meet with Batts in the next week.
Russoniello said he made a similar offer to Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums in October 2008 but never heard back until Batts called him some time in the past two months. Batts reached out before the 80 officers were laid off, Russoniello added.
Dellums and Batts are together "coordinating efforts to reach out to the federal government for funding given our financial situation," Dellums' chief of staff, Marisol Lopez, wrote in response to an e-mail asking for comment. "In fact, Mayor Dellums, Chief Batts, Senator (Loni) Hancock and Assemblymember (Sandré) Swanson sent a letter to Congresswoman (Barbara) Lee asking for her support in this endeavor."
A handful of major crime events struck the city in the days surrounding the layoffs, including the late-night killing of a Virginia man in town for a job interview; officers being the target of gunfire multiple times; and mass vandalism and looting after the jury's announced verdict in the murder case against former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle.
"We've felt the impact (of the laid-off officers)," Batts said in news conference Thursday. "We're not trying to punish or threaten the community with danger. "... We're trying to shift the workload."
However, the city needed 80 more officers, not 80 fewer, he added.
Of the 80 officers laid off, 67 have signed up as volunteers to be reserve officers for the department, police spokesman Officer Jeff Thomason said. Their applications are being processed, and Thomason said the department hopes to put them back to work in August.
Reserve officers must work 16 hours a month, and currently there are only 13 of them, Thomason said. The boosted reserves mostly will be used for patrol, he added.
"I think they really want to be OPD officers and help the community and still want to be a part of this Police Department," Thomason said of the incoming reserve officers. "It's also a lot easier to bring them back once we get authorization through attrition to bring them back over."
The officers also may be motivated by a professional problem: Almost every police department in California, including Oakland's, participates in extra training through the state's Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, commission Bureau Chief Ronald Wood said.
Unless officers stay active — they have a window of 60 days — those who leave their jobs have to go through more than 130 hours of training to get recertified and become a police officers again, Wood said.
Community-safety advocates said they would welcome any help, hoping it could help ease fears in people who consider shopping, investing and living in Oakland.
"All the news we heard for the entire week was something bad. We need welcoming and positive news," said Carl Chan, chairman of the Asian Advisory Committee on Crime. He said that news of the volunteering officers was cheered during a recent meeting and that his neighbors look forward to the possibility of federal aid.
"With this proposal, if we get help at all, I would say they will bring more confidence back to the people," Chan said. "However, it may be a temporary fix. We still need to work on the permanent solution."