Good news can be hard to come by in Oakland, but the city and school district got a big chunk of it last week when the Obama Justice Department announced that Oakland had won a $10.7 million grant to hire 25 police officers — the maximum allowed under a nationwide program. The feds were particularly impressed with Oakland's plan to increase community policing around public middle schools. Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts credited Oakland schools Superintendent Tony Smith with coming up with the idea. Batts also told the San Francisco Chronicle that Mayor Jean Quan, whose office had help coordinate the grant application process, had "hit a home run."
The much-needed grant will allow the city to rehire ten officers who were laid off last year when the Oakland police union refused to contribute 9 percent to its pension plan. Oakland also plans to hire twelve cadets who have already completed the city's police academy, along with three officers from other law enforcement agencies, the Oakland Tribune reported. The grant will increase Oakland's total authorized force to 685 officers.
But the $10.7 million will do more than just add cops to a depleted department. It will fund a proposal that represents precisely the type of forward thinking that Oakland needs. Parents, particularly in the city's flatlands neighborhoods, have long been wary about sending their kids to public middle and high schools because of safety concerns. The new officers should help alleviate some of those fears by ensuring that there's less crime around middle schools, particularly before and after the school day.
According to the Chronicle, Batts also said that one of the goals of the program would be to change the perception youth have of police so that "police officers are seen in a positive way.
"Too many times this organization is ... in a suppression mode," the chief said. "We have to do a lot more prevention and intervention and ... deal with the community without them seeing us dragging someone off to jail."
For anyone who has followed Oakland police issues over the years, Batts' comments may have been somewhat disarming. It's not every day that an Oakland police chief publicly acknowledges that the city cops have not always been part of the solution, but instead, have been part of the problem. He seems to understand that many youth in the city, particularly black and Latino teens, do not view Oakland police in a positive light. But this program, if successful, could help change that, while making the city a safer place.
Fatal Shooting on Video
An Oakland police officer recently filmed himself fatally shooting a suspect by using a new small camera purchased by the department, the Chron reported. OPD bought the cameras to help ensure that officers do not violate people's constitutional rights. A controversy also has erupted as to whether the unidentified officer should be allowed to view the video before giving his official statement to investigators about the shooting. OPD brass say the cop should see the video, but civil rights activists contend that the officer might change his story to match what was filmed.
Hate Crimes at Cal
Hate crimes rose significantly at UC Berkeley last year, jumping from just three reported incidents in 2009 to eighteen in 2010, the Bay Citizen reported. The news about the spike in hate crimes came the same week that campus Republicans sparked allegations of racism when they held a highly controversial "bake sale." It appears that a significant portion of the hate crimes last year involved anti-Semitic religious bias, as numerous swastikas appeared on campus.
Cal Students Want Voice
UC Berkeley students submitted a proposal late last week to create a student seat on the Berkeley City Council, Berkeleyside and the Berkeley Voice reported. The proposal has the backing of Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, who was elected to the Berkeley City Council in 1984 while she was a Cal grad student and the city did not have council districts. Students have long complained that they have no voice on the council, but their proposal will require voter approval because it violates a 1986 law on how council districts must be drawn.
'Shrooms Equal Happiness
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, who administered psilocybin mushrooms to subjects in a clinical setting, found that those who took the drugs became more "creative, empathic, and curious, up to a year later," ABC 7 reports. Progressive scientists are suggesting new uses for the drug, as a therapy for cancer patients and even cigarette smokers.
Sudden oak death is spreading throughout the Bay Area at a much faster rate than previously thought, the Chron reported, citing a new UC Berkeley study. ... The Metropolitan Transportation Commission's decision to move forward with its plans to spend $180 million on a San Francisco warehouse that is much larger than needed has angered state legislators who are now contemplating stripping the agency of some of its powers, the Contra Costa Times reported. ... An independent report strongly criticized Alameda police and firefighters for standing around while a man drowned in chest-high water in the bay. ... The Navy handed over the closed Naval Air Station to Alameda for free after the city said it planned to use the base for commercial and industrial development — not housing. The Navy had previously asked for $83 million for the land because it would have to do a more thorough job cleaning up the polluted base if people were going to be living on it. ... And California Attorney General Kamala Harris pulled the state out of a proposed settlement agreement with large banks over the foreclosure crisis, because she contended that the deal was too favorable for financial institutions, the Sacramento Bee reported. Her decision means that the proposed settlement between the banks and twenty states likely will unravel.