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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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"Cops have lost faith in the command staff. Accountability stops at certain levels," said the current OPD supervisor. "If you have no leadership, we're gonna do whatever instinct tells us to do."

It's not clear what the future holds for OPD: Barring a dramatic turnaround in the economic fortunes of Oakland or California, it may be impossible to procure funding to fully staff the department at the current pay structure without stripping other core city services to the bone. The resistance of other Alameda County law enforcement to creating a consolidated crime lab leaves the city without a long-term solution to the massive evidentiary backlog. The doubts cast on the department's future by the impending receivership proceedings mean the command structure will be preoccupied by Judge Henderson's ruling until at least the beginning of 2013. What's more, the consent decree has never covered the troubled Criminal Investigations Division, and it remains unclear whether a federally appointed receiver would go beyond the current limits of reforms to address other problems rife within OPD.

The few bright spots that Oakland has concern the police department's collaboration with outside agencies. Federal assistance with long-term investigation appears to have become the norm — but it has yet to decrease the body count in Oakland's flatland neighborhoods. The much-touted return of Project Ceasefire after a previous incarnation was derailed by the city's gang injunctions (see "Oakland's Other Gang Program," 10/5/11) is in its infancy, but will struggle if it does not provide meaningful employment to offer young men and women involved in the street life.

Experimental programs such as restorative justice have attracted attention in Oakland's public schools, but the city has yet to try alternatives to incarceration such as San Francisco's drug and neighborhood courts. The status quo is untenable: Young men and women, overwhelmingly black and Latino, are dying in droves, and OPD's ability to bring justice to the victims of crime is increasingly compromised by a financial house of cards and the same internal dysfunction that plunged it into federal oversight almost a decade ago.

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