OAKLAND -- Twenty-four of the 80 police officers laid off last year and recently rehired began taking refresher training courses Monday before they get back on Oakland streets, where summer violence has spiked.
More than half the officers are expected to be back on street duty by Saturday. Many of them had found work elsewhere, including at the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office, but returned to Oakland when they received job offers from the police department. One more officer is expected to return to the force within a few weeks.
The budget passed June 30 by the City Council set aside funding for 22 of those officers to return. More have been offered jobs as the Oakland Police Department shrank through attrition the past several months.
Officer Jerry Pertoso, who was doing security work and volunteering as a reserve officer for OPD, said he is glad to be back.
"If you're going to do police work," he said, "Oakland is the place to be."
Another returning officer, Oscar Vargas, said he looked for work for four months after being laid off, finally landing at the Oakland Housing Authority. He returned to OPD partly because of the no layoffs guarantee police union members won in a new contract with the city.
On Monday, Chief Anthony Batts said he told the returning officers, "I'm sincerely happy to have you come back to the organization to give your all. You're very much needed, in the worst kind of way."
More people are carrying guns and drugs on Oakland streets, he said. The city has seen a significant bump in serious crime this summer, with 71 homicides reported -- 19 more than at the same time last year. Serious crime, including homicides, robberies and shootings, is up about 4 percent overall through July 31. Shootings alone are up 39 percent.
At the same time, overall crime is down 5 percent. Burglaries have dipped by 3 percent and reported rapes by 18 percent.
Of the 80 officers laid off in July 2010, 34 have been rehired by the department.
"It's an important time to have these officers back," said Dom Arotzarena, president of the police union. "There's a growing safety issue for everyone, including officers."
The authorized strength of the department is currently 660 officers, and all but one of those positions is filled or should be filled shortly, officials said.
A 60-day suppression plan expected to go into action as early as next week would put the retrained officers back on street patrol. They will replace current officers that the department plans to organize into three teams to concentrate on areas seeing an increase in violent crime, said OPD spokeswoman Sgt. Holly Joshi. Those officers will be highly skilled in crime reduction and focused enforcement, she added.
Additionally, the 60-day plan will reinstitute a disbanded squad of motorcycle officers, Joshi said. The visible presence of officers on motorcycles has been shown to be a deterrent to crime.
Batts will also ask for continuing help from federal law agencies -- including the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
All took part in a summit on Oakland violence last August, Joshi said.
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.