The Oakland Police Department will increase its presence amid a surge in violence that has included roving armed caravans, an uptick in homicides and brazen smash-and-grab burglaries while city leaders want to reverse planned budget cuts set to take effect next year as it follows other liberal cities changing course to address crime.
The department tweeted Sunday that tactical teams will assist patrols officers in responding to the caravans, illegal sideshows and other violent crimes. The announcement came days after a retired police officer working as a security guard was shot and killed while protecting a local television news crew during an armed robbery.
Kevin Nishita died from his injuries Saturday morning after he was shot days earlier while with a KRON-TV crew working on a story about a recent smash-and-grab incident. His death brought the city’s murder toll to 127 this year.
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The most recent murder occurred Sunday as a man was shot and killed while confronting a car burglary suspect.
While speaking with city leaders on Monday, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said she will push for more police officers and said she will present a plan to the city council to maintain department levels at a minimum of 678 officers in an effort to re-start the city’s Ceasefire crime reduction program.
“That analysis will make the case that additional police staffing is needed in the wake of this violent spree,” Schaaf said during a virtual meeting. “We know what has worked in the past. There is nothing progressive about unbridled gun violence.”
She noted that the COVID-19 pandemic “completely interrupted” the police training and recruitment process. Her recommendations on increased police staffing and services will be available Friday.
One recommendation will be to add an additional academy class and a proposal to walk back police budget cuts such as the freezing of 50 police department positions beginning next summer.
“It’s heartbreaking and it’s even traumatizing to hear of how many lives have been lost to violence,” said Councilwoman Treva Reid, who represents east Oakland, which has seen a disproportionate amount of the growing violence in the city. “It has gripped our community.”
Police staffing has fallen below the 678 sworn officers mandated by a voter-approved measure.
The Oakland Police Officers Association, the union that represents rank-and-file officers, said the department is losing 10 officers each month to other law enforcement agencies.
“Oakland’s dwindling ranks of police officers, falling below the voter-approved Measure Z minimum number of 678, is yet another broken promise to Oakland residents by the ‘defund-the-police’ majority on city council that are determined to make Oakland less safe,” union President Barry Donelan said in a statement.
Oakland seems to be following a similar trajectory as other cities that voted to slash police budgets amid protests over the death of George Floyd. Many police departments are seeing their budgets being restored, partially or fully, amid escalating crime rates and pressure from lawmakers.
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Oakland has grappled with a rise in gun crimes and, more recently, a wave of smash-and-grab thefts that have left residents and businesses on edge.
On Nov. 19, officers encountered a caravan of hundreds of vehicles targeting cannabis businesses and firing up to 175 rounds near officers, Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said last week after a bloody weekend. He said the department needs help from city leaders to combat the violence.
“I’m asking council members to step up and start having a conversation about the loss of life in this city,” the chief said. “Beyond the politics of whether you support the police, there is a clear problem in this city and that this city had to deal with overwhelming violence over the weekend and it’s unacceptable.”