Posted November 23, 2021 from The Chronicle —
Oakland’s debate over how to address violent crime was reignited Monday as the city reeled from a slew of incidents over the weekend, including officers shooting and killing an armed carjacking suspect in Rockridge.
The violent weekend — which also included the city’s 124th homicide, caravans of hundreds of cars with armed thieves targeting more than two dozen businesses, and massive sideshows — added fuel to the fire over public safety debates.
Chief LeRonne Armstrong said during a news conference Monday afternoon that the department on Saturday “extended every shift of all of our officers” as it managed more than 300 calls for service.
Next weekend, when crowd-heavy shopping is expected to kick into high gear after Thanksgiving, the department will deploy tactical teams and extend staffing to prevent violence, he said.
Armstrong said both local gangs and criminal groups from outside the city who’ve coordinated retail thefts in other Bay Area cities are driving crime.
“We’re not going to tolerate this type of activity in the city of Oakland,” the chief said. “Nobody should have to live through this.”
Armstrong said his department needs help, and he urged the City Council to “step up and start having a conversation about the loss of life in this city. Beyond the politics of whether you support police or not, there is a clear problem in this city.”
Council Member Loren Taylor, who represents East Oakland and is running for mayor, said at Monday’s conference that the council has a special meeting scheduled for Dec. 7 about the issue.
“We should be treating this crisis with the urgency that it deserves,” he said. “I’m confident we as Oakland will get on top of this, but we have to come together.”
Oakland’s struggle to get a handle on violence this year has prompted divergent solutions and debate over police spending between Mayor Libby Schaaf and the City Council, as well as among members of the council itself. The council voted to increase the police budget this year to $336 million, not as much as proposed by Schaaf, while also investing $17 million in violence prevention and other social programs. Taylor and another council member dissented.
The chief says his department is understaffed. Oakland has a lower ratio of cops to residents than San Francisco, although it spends more per capita. Its rate for solving violent crimes is below the national average.
Taylor said he wants local, state and federal help, and he wants to unfreeze police officer positions to open up for new hiring for next year.
Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas said the issue is less about dollars or the number of officers, but using resources wisely. She supported Armstrong’s recent move to reassign half a dozen officers to investigations. She also wants to see police calls for nonviolent, noncriminal incidents redirected to alternative responders and the city to focus on addressing the causes of crime, such as lack of education and employment.
“Clearly this is unacceptable,” she said. “Every family deserves a safe neighborhood as well as fair treatment by the police, as well as results from our Police Department.”
Council Member Dan Kalb said the issue with police staffing wasn’t budgetary, but hiring and filling academies. Armstrong also acknowledged the issue Monday.
“Even if we were given resources, we couldn’t get help in uniform within the next 18 months,” he said.
The rash of incidents over the weekend was unusual in its intensity and frequency.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, roving car caravans targeted more than two dozen cannabis, retail and pharmacy businesses, the chief said. Armed burglars shot at business employees, security guards and officers, firing more than 175 rounds at police Friday and damaging patrol cars with bullets early Monday morning. Police arrested five suspects at one location and one at a different spot.
Each night also saw as many as 500 vehicles spinning donuts and firing guns in sideshows. Police arrested six people and towed 11 vehicles over the weekend.
During a 10-hour period Saturday, the city logged two dozen violent incidents, starting with an armed suspect carjacking a vehicle in East Oakland, Armstrong said. A two-hour police chase that started in the Temescal neighborhood ended in the 5900 block of Ocean View Drive in North Oakland.
The suspect rammed into police and residents’ cars before exiting the vehicle with a firearm, the chief said. Officers told him to drop the weapon before they shot, he said, and the victim later died of shooting injuries at a local hospital.
Two officers are on paid administrative leave and the shooting is under investigation.
Also on Saturday night, police responded to two shootings, one leaving a victim in critical condition and the other killing a teenager, Armstrong said. Sunday saw six more shootings.
Oakland Police Officers' Association President Barry Donelan said in a statement that officers “struggled to protect our residents amid a severe lack of police staffing” and blamed council members for not boosting the budget more.
But Cat Brooks, head of the Anti-Police Terror Project, said ceaseless crime proves that adding more police isn’t the answer.
“We keep doing the same thing and it’s not working. I’m sad but I’m angry,” she said. “If we invested as aggressively in crime prevention and addressing trauma, in making sure people have basic necessities to not get them in horrifically violent ways, we would have very different outcomes.”
Karen Ivy, secretary of the Greater Rockridge Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council, said Saturday’s police shooting was startling. She is appalled by Oakland’s crime and attributed the problem to police understaffing.
Pete Woiwode, who lives five minutes from where police shot the carjacking suspect Saturday, said it was heart-wrenching but disagreed that more violence should mean more police resources.
Despite “dollar after dollar” poured into the department, Oakland residents aren’t safer, he said. Instead, he wants investment in social support that could prevent someone from making a decision to carjack a vehicle that ultimately “ended in ending their life.”