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Getting Away with Murder

The Oakland Police Department can't lower the city's crime rate, because it doesn't catch criminals.

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However, OPD's ability to trace weapons was severely curtailed by the ATF's decision to cut the weapons-tracing contractor in 2011. "Now guns are traced on an individual base — it's not systematic like it was with that ATF contractor," said Milina. The ATF contractor "was helpful, it was definitely an asset."

After being arrested, Cardenas-Morfin pled guilty to felony charges on December 22, 2011. The 23-year-old will remain incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Lompoc until August 2020.

Officer Milina acknowledged that the sting operation, for which he was awarded a departmental commendation, put only a small dent in Oakland's brisk traffic in illegal firearms. Noting the devastating impact that 7.62- and 0.223-millimeter rounds fired by the AR-15 and AK-47 rifles he purchased possess (both calibers are capable of ripping through dwellings and vehicles), Milina still believes his risky, months-long undercover stint had an impact: "Any time you can stop a gun supplier, it's worth it," he said. "Even if it stops one murder, saves one life, it's worth it."


Fit's nor

The one aspect of OPD's troubled operations that made its way into the 2012 municipal elections was the dearth of police officers to patrol the city. Not counting cops on medical leave, assigned as community policing "problem-solving officers," or tasked with patrolling near city schools, OPD has only 327 of the department's 627 officers to divide among its patrol division, criminal investigations, internal affairs, special operations, and training unit. As a result, several beats throughout the city are open, and response times to crimes are alarmingly high.

In 2009, officers responded to priority-one calls for service (i.e., incidents where a violent crime had just taken place or was still in progress) within 14.8 minutes on average, double the response times from comparable cities like Sacramento, Anaheim, San Francisco, and Fresno.

Short-staffing and instability within OPD's command structure — there have been five police chiefs within the past thirteen years — along with priorities that appear to shift along with the political winds, have demoralized rank-and-file officers and made the department a less effective organization. An OPD supervisor who is still with the department said the command structure is not geared to proactively combat violent crime. "OPD is an entirely reactive agency," said the supervisor, who wished to remain anonymous. "Everything in this police department is political — what we do is entirely dependent on the lead [newspaper] headlines."

Following the layoffs of eighty cops in July 2010, then-Police Chief Anthony Batts decided to do away with several specialized units, including six Crime Reduction Teams, or CRTs, that were assigned to specific areas of the city with the task of investigating and reducing violent and drug-related crime. Each composed of six officers and one sergeant, CRTs were created in the mid-2000s.

Much of the work of the CRTs focused on gangs and aggressive, proactive policing. Police depositions filed in support of the city's two gang injunctions in North Oakland and Fruitvale included statements from several CRT officers about arrests and contacts with the individuals listed as active gang members.

CRT officers, however, were also at the heart of some of OPD's most controversial moments in the past decade: several traffic stops by CRT officers are included in a large civil rights lawsuit over a now-discontinued OPD policy permitting public strip searches. The September 20, 2007 officer-involved shooting of Gary King Jr. by Sergeant Patrick Gonzales was a result of the officer mistaking King for a murder suspect. Gonzales was the supervising sergeant for a North Oakland CRT at the time. In 2010, Oakland paid $1.5 million to the King family to settle a wrongful death lawsuit, making it the most expensive officer-involved shooting in the city's recent history.

Earlier this year, OPD reassigned 22 of 57 officers assigned to specific neighborhoods as "problem-solving officers (PSOs)," dividing them into two CRTs responsible for tackling violent crime in East and West Oakland. However, the transfer of PSOs who are intimately familiar with their beat has angered some residents of wealthier neighborhoods in the hills, which have experienced increases in property crimes and robberies.

Until the recent reintroduction of CRTs, OPD's gangs and guns task force of one sergeant and eight officers was the department's only unit dedicated to the proactive police work of long-term surveillance, intelligence gathering, parole searches, narcotics buys, and taking firearms off the streets. Formed in the mid-2000s as the Tactical Enforcement Task Force, it has an extremely heavy workload. In 2011, its members conducted 281 parole searches, 488 probation searches, 631 surveillance operations, and served 26 search warrants, resulting in 223 arrests. Of those, 31 arrests were of murder suspects, 20 were for robbery suspects, and 93 individuals were taken into custody for firearms-related offenses. In all, the task force seized 88 handguns, 18 rifles, and $79,304 in cash. For the year to date, OPD has seized more than 750 firearms.

But while the specialized task force produces numbers and arrests, its sheer workload detracts from its ability to engage in long-term investigations and build cases against organized street gangs. "They're not police, they're firemen," the current OPD supervisor said of the members of the gangs and guns task force and the reformed CRTs. "They're running from one end of the city to another: On Monday, they could be on a stakeout in East Oakland, the next day they're serving warrants in the West."

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