California and National Elections

Murder Rate Rises as Oakland Voters Decide on 'More Cops' Initiative

By Roya Aziz and Christopher Togneri
November 5, 2002 11:21 PM

OAKLAND, Nov. 5 -- On a day that ended with one more street homicide, Oakland residents voted on a $70 million package of measures that would add 100 new officers to the Oakland Police Department. Updated Nov. 5, 11:21 pm

Very early returns, however, suggest that while Oakland residents want more police officers, they may not want to pay for them.

With 15 of 244 precincts reporting at 10 p.m., Measure FF, which would give Mayor Brown the mandate to bolster the force, was winning.

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Oakland Police Department administrative offices are housed at 455 Seventh Street in downtown Oakland. Photo by Kechia Smith-Gran
But the three tax measures, which the mayor says are needed to secure $70 million to hire the new police officers, were losing badly. Measure GG would double city parking taxes; Measure HH would raise utilities taxes by a half percent; and Measure II would increase hotel transient taxes by 3 percent.

Meanwhile, two hours before the polls closed, the city's escalating homicide rate grew yet again. Four men were shot this evening in an East Oakland park, on the corner of Acalanes and 105th streets, at 5:55 p.m., said Oakland Police Sgt. T.L. Slade. The murder rate now stands at 95, and appears certain to reach triple digits for the first time in five years.

Sgt. Slade said that over 100 predominantly African-American males had been holding a party in honor of dead friends when an unknown culprit, or culprits, shot several rounds into the group, killing one man and wounding three others.

The victim was a 38-year-old African American male, said Sgt. Slade. The three injured men were hospitalized at Highland Hospital, one in critical condition. The police said they have no leads or suspects.

Alonzo Traylor, 53, who lives one block from the park, said he heard approximately 15 shots fired. "It sounded like two guns," he said. "I knew it wasn't fireworks."

"This happens all the time," said another local, Tony Russo, 43. "There are shootings here every night, or just about. This is nothing new."

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Officer Julio Pinzon has been on the force for ten and a half years. "I think it's a good measure; we need it. We are so understaffed." Photo by Kechia Smith-Gran.
Neither Traylor nor Russo said they voted today. Vice Mayor Larry Reid, however, did vote, casting his ballot in favor of Mayor Brown's plan.

"The whole city should be incensed," he said after arriving at the scene of the shooting two hours after it occurred. "People who choose not to support FF have no one to blame but themselves for the insanity that is happening in their neighborhoods."

Mayor Brown also voted. At the Jack London Square polling station where he cast his support of the measures, several other voters said they supported the mayor and his initiative.

"I feel Brown should go for it," said LeDora Whitfield, 53, an unemployed Fruitvale resident. "I voted in favor because they need more police, as many as they can find, the more the merrier."

Jiri Veskrna, 42, who emigrated to the U.S. from communist Czechoslovakia in 1980, also voted for more police officers.

"Coming from the country I came from and the situation there, it is not easy for me to vote for more police," said Veskrna. "But I voted in favor because there are a lot of places in Oakland where you walk the streets at night and you see things are not right, that there's a problem."

A yes vote on FF would give Brown the go-ahead to use 96 percent of the possible tax revenues for the new police positions; the remaining four percent would fund existing city violence prevention programs.

The controversial measure ignited an old debate in the Oakland community about the causes and prevention of crime.

Proponents of the plan said the police department is understaffed compared to cities of its size. Oakland has a population of approximately 400,000 and a total 778 uniformed police officers, or 178 per 100,000.

According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice, Cleveland has more than twice that rate, with 381 officers per 100,000 residents, while Atlanta (354) and New Orleans (343) also have officer-to-population rates nearly twice Oakland's. Only four of 17 U.S. cities with comparable populations have fewer police officers than Oakland.

The department received 809,934 calls last year from people reporting crimes or requesting service, according to police statistics. Officers were dispatched to only 227,000 of those calls due to a lack of manpower, said Oakland Police Sgt. Arturo Bautista.

"People complain to us, 'why isn't my case being investigated?'" Bautista said. "Well, we may never get to your case, because we have a lack of staff. When people report crimes -- like auto or home break-ins -- unless they are in progress it takes several hours if not a day to get there and make a police report."

Opponents, who say the police force needs reforms, not more officers, have pointed to Measure FF's lack of funding for violence prevention programs as its main problem.

"FF is a knee-jerk, popular reaction based on polls, not good policy analysis," said Oakland City Councilmember Nancy Nadel (Downtown-West Oakland).

Nadel pushed for an alternative amendment that included 57 officers, one for each community policing area, and a special employment opportunity program. She added that cities similar to Oakland's size with more police officers don't necessarily have a lower crime rate.

"If this passes, we'll have more arrests, more people in prison," she said. "And we will not have solved the violence problem."

Anti-FF organizers, including People United for a Better Oakland, a police watchdog group formed in 1989, have lobbied local businesses from the Fruitvale to the Diamond districts during their opposition campaign.

Jo Su, the group's police accountability representative, said the measure will be ineffective in curbing the rising rate of homicides.

"Police don't deter crime, they respond to it," Su said. "We do feel we need officers on the streets, but we feel they need to do a better job, too."

Bobby Seale, former chairman of the Black Panther Party, also opposes the plan. Speaking at the School of Social Justice and Community Development in East Oakland, he said the crime rate would drop only when jobs were provided for unemployed youth.

"I've run youth programs in Philly, I've run youth programs across the country, and they make an impact," Seale said. "If we even had one-third of that $70 million, we could put 3,000 to 5,000 youth to work in this city. Fact."

The measure would add 45 police officers to crime teams dealing with street-level drug dealing; 27 for foot and bike patrols; 15 for sexual and aggravated assault cases; nine officers to corrections; and four officers to the fugitive unit.

"We need more cops," said Vice Mayor Reid. "We will probably end up with more than 100 murders this year. It is frustrating. There is no sense of value, no respect for young people who are losing their lives."


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Officer Julio Pinzon offers assistance to a family, as they became lost near the OPD transportation department. Photo by Kechia Smith-Gran.

"FF is a knee-jerk, popular reaction based on polls, not good policy analysis," said Oakland City Councilmember Nancy Nadel (Downtown-West Oakland).

Nadel pushed for an alternative amendment that included 57 officers, one for each community policing area, and a special employment opportunity program. She added that cities similar to Oakland's size with more police officers don't necessarily have a lower crime rate.

"If this passes, we'll have more arrests, more people in prison," she said. "And we will not have solved the violence problem."

Anti-FF organizers, including People United for a Better Oakland, a police watchdog group formed in 1989, have lobbied local businesses from the Fruitvale to the Diamond districts during their opposition campaign.

Jo Su, the group's police accountability representative, said the measure will be ineffective in curbing the rising rate of homicides.

"Police don't deter crime, they respond to it," Su said. "We do feel we need officers on the streets, but we feel they need to do a better job, too."

Bobby Seale, former chairman of the Black Panther Party, also opposes the plan. Speaking at the School of Social Justice and Community Development in East Oakland, he said the crime rate would drop only when jobs were provided for unemployed youth.

"I've run youth programs in Philly, I've run youth programs across the country, and they make an impact," Seale said. "If we even had one-third of that $70 million, we could put 3,000 to 5,000 youth to work in this city. Fact."

The measure would add 45 police officers to crime teams dealing with street-level drug dealing; 27 for foot and bike patrols; 15 for sexual and aggravated assault cases; nine officers to corrections; and four officers to the fugitive unit.

"We need more cops," said Vice Mayor Reid. "We will probably end up with more than 100 murders this year. It is frustrating. There is no sense of value, no respect for young people who are losing their lives."