Earlier this month, Oakland police brass told the City Council that no one has a clue how long it will take for the police department to reach the mandated force level of 803 sworn officers. As anyone who has been paying even casual attention to the city’s rising crime rate knows, OPD is about 70 cops shy of that goal. OPD’s research predicts that in 2009 Oakland will still not have the police department voters asked for when they approved Measure Y in 2004. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we are in Oakland with the police force we have, not the police force we want.
It’s time to recognize that, at least for the next two years, Oakland will have to fight crime with an undermanned, and demoralized police force. It’s pointless to squeal incessantly that Oakland needs 1,100 cops, or attack a youth center that youth actually like going to.
Instead, the Oakland Police Department, City Hall, and citizens determined to feel safer in their city, should set goals that have a prayer of being reached. As a model, there’s Nashville.
V Smoothe at A Better Oakland crunched the numbers this week, and showed that Oakland is the fourth most violent big city in the country. It also has the smallest police force of the 10 most violent big cities. Only Nashville is in that unfortunate list with a comparable number of sworn officers. We have 18 sworn officers for every 10,000 residents. Nashville has 21.
But there’s a difference. Nashville also recorded fewer violent crimes in 2006, according to numbers V Smoothe got from the United States Department of Justice. In Nashville, there were 153 violent crimes for every 10,000 residents. Oakland had 191.
Somehow, Nashville, a less eduacated and less wealthy city than Oakland, is doing more with less. If Oakland were able to bring its violent crime rate to Nashville levels, it would represent a drop of nearly 18 percent. Over the course of a year, that’s 1,600 fewer armed robberies, rapes, and murders.
The mayor and the police chief say that putting the police department on a 12-hour shift, and reorganizing command to a geographic division will improve policing in Oakland. City Hall and police brass should put a number to this promise. Committing to cut violent crime by 18 percent in two years is a fair place to start.