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Letters for the Week of August 29, 2012

Readers sound off on the OPD, Art Murmur, and Missouri Lounge.


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Charlie Pine, Oakland

More Cops Is the Answer

Most of us want the cops to be more simpatico/sensitive to/tolerant/aware/knowledgeable of the wide range of people and situations here. But it's not anywhere as clear as you make it out to be that residence or even place of upbringing will achieve those goals.

Even assuming that Oakland residence has the desired effect, how far do we go? Are we to require cops to reside in the zip code of the beat to which we're going to assign them? The demographic differences between, say, Montclair and Peralta and 14th streets is greater than the difference between Tracy and that part of West Oakland.

I agree with the criticism of your assumptions about why cops don't live here. There are serious flaws in your economic analysis also. Regardless of why most cops don't live here and don't retire here, most Oakland residents, who are not cops, spend most of their money outside of Oakland except for groceries, restaurants, gasoline, medical care, and of course, rent/house payments. That's the infamous retail sales tax drain here.

So concluding that the money spent on uniformed police compensation is money "lost" to Oakland is grossly overstating the economic effect of police residence on a city of 400,000 residents and many businesses, because even if they lived here, those cops wouldn't be spending much of their income here anyway.

The cops I've asked about why they live in San Leandro, Hayward, San Ramon, etc. rarely mention death threats. No, they give the exact same reason I've heard for almost forty years from young families who move out of Oakland when their kids reach school age, especially when they have more than one kid: Other than a few exceptions — the hills elementary schools, a few hills middle schools, Chinatown elementary schools, a few charter schools, Montera Middle School, Oakland Technical High School, and Skyline High School — the public schools are mediocre to bad compared to the 'burbs and adjacent cities.

Cops tend to have families with more than one kid. They can't afford to live in a decent Oakland neighborhood and pay for private school for multiple kids. That takes more than the excessive wages we do pay them.

The solution is not trying to force or even "incentivize" cops to live here. We need to lower the compensation for new cops so we can afford to increase the number of cops from the official 600 or so to about the 1,100 level that activists like Charlie Pine have advocated for for many years. Do that by implementing a two-tier compensation system so we can afford to hire and keep the young cops we'll be paying to go through the scheduled two academies, instead of laying them off before they start like we did last time.

As we reach that 1,100 staffing level, the OPD will be able to do true community beat policing where the cops are assigned mostly to the same beats for several years. The community gets to know the assigned cops and the cops get to know the residents. That means fewer mistakes by cops who have no idea who the bad guys are, and more trust by the good gals and guys.

Under the absurdly low staffing we have now, we have maybe 500 cops available to staff all shifts, and probably fewer than 250 on duty at any given time for a city of 400,000 residents and 56 square miles of land. Cops are rushed from one corner of the city to another responding to emergencies. They have no chance to get to know residents or for residents to get to know them.

We can achieve most of what we want by increasing the affordable number of cops. Yes, we have to properly manage them and have civilians monitor them. But that's a whole other topic.

As to recruiting locally: Residence is not important, but growing up here should increase street-sense and awareness, depending on the person. To put it bluntly, we have to lower our hiring standards. We have to consider what we want from our cops. If we expect them all to be combination paralegals/family-conflict mediators/paramedics/Olympic athletes/bouncers/able to write reports with at least two-year college degrees, then, yes, we will have to compete with white-collar high-paying jobs that pay $85,000 or $95,000 from the start. In no small part because of the generally mediocre Oakland schools, we won't find many locals who both meet those selection specs and want to be Oakland cops.

We should consider hiring some cops that fit that job description, but most of them from the pool of candidates who would simply make good beat officers in the old-fashioned, pre-lawsuit way. No college would be a place to start. Have a paraprofessional transcribe the reports.

If the Oakland police union won't go along with those changes, the city council has to put the repeal of binding arbitration on the ballot and break its cowardly promise to the union not to do so.

Len Raphael

Candidate for Oakland City Council District 1

It's a Cycle

The authors of this article imply that the hostile relationship between some elements of the Oakland community and the Oakland Police Department is partly rooted in the police force's lack of familiarity with high-crime neighborhoods. To the contrary, I would suggest that the distrust of police officers is a direct byproduct of their familiarity with these neighborhoods: Anybody who frequently witnesses the results of the unspeakable acts of violence that occur in Oakland's worst neighborhoods (such as the death of a child hit by a stray bullet, which happened recently) is bound to develop a rational fear of some of the people in that neighborhood.

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