(Mint Press) – In Oakland, Calif., the city residents are abandoning hope in their police force. In the East Oakland neighborhood of Arcadia Park, residents are now patrolling the streets in a lookout for crimes, carrying guns and even hanging “Wanted” posters around the city.
In the last two months, more than 25 homes were burglarized, with one house being hit twice in the same 24-hour period. During one of these break-ins, the property’s resident was at home. “He was on with 911 when those men tried to kick into his room. That was very frightening,” said the tenant, identified only as Inca.
The residents of Arcadia Park is taking the patrol-work very seriously. KPIX 5 News found one woman — identified as L.E. — who recently chased down two burglars herself. “There was an armed robbery in progress and the owner yelled ‘help me’ and I ended up going after them,” L.E. recalled.
“We don’t have a choice. Either [we] die or we hire some security ourselves, because we can’t depend on the police department,” said Alaska Tarvins of the Arcadia Park Board of Directors.
Arcadia Park is not alone. Neighborhoods across Oakland are struggling to stay ahead of the ever-increasing tide of crime. In Oakmore, the neighborhood in which Oakland’s Mayor Jean Quan lives, the residents have moved to hire a private guard service to improve security. Stephen Pollack, who lives in Oakmore, told KPIX 5: “I would say the last six months that it feels like it’s gotten noticeably worse in this neighborhood.”
Utility poles in the neighborhood — just a few blocks from the mayor’s house — are covered with faces of burglars who were caught on tape by security systems or by locals recording. “The group of neighbors that got together felt that we needed to do something immediate and something meaningful,” Pollack said.
Sixty-two households agreed to pay $60 a month each for a guard to patrol a half mile radius in the region, scanning for home intrusions.
This move is supported by the mayor. Mayor Quan’s office told KPIX 5 that she is aware that the Oakland Police Department has been ineffective in responding to burglaries and that the mayor’s office supports any effort undertaken to get involved and make the communities safer.
A broken police force
The Oakland Police Force has found itself under increasing scrutiny in recent months. On Jan. 31, an independent monitor who was overseeing Oakland police reforms reported that the force was backtracking after a decade of work. Of particular concern was the lack of cooperation by officers in the police misconduct cases centering around the crackdown on Occupy Oakland protests.
The reform effort, ordered in federal court in response to a police brutality scandal, required police officers to report any abuses from fellow cops they observed anonymously. In the reform process’s latest quarterly report, it was pointed out that officers used the confidential system only three times in 10 years.
In regard to the Occupy Oakland investigations, a “common thread” detected was officers who “consistently refused to say that they saw, knew, discussed or observed the actions of fellow officers who were often close by.”
“Undoubtedly, it is difficult after standing in a line with fellow officers while confronted by a large, hostile and threatening crowd, yelling the vilest sort of insults and hurling all manner of dangerous missiles and projectiles, to later be called upon to offer evidence of your fellow officers’ misconduct,” Robert Warshaw, the independent monitor, wrote. “That is, nevertheless, exactly what we expect of our police.”
In December 2012, Oakland narrowly avoided a federal takeover of the city’s police force — an unprecedented move in American politics. Civil rights attorneys petitioned the federal court to place the Oakland Police Department into receivership, expressing that “a broken culture had fouled the reform effort, endangering citizens — minorities, in particular — and prompting costly police-abuse lawsuits.”
Receivership would have granted the United States’ Department of Justice — or a substitute authority, as the court wishes — administrative authority over the Oakland Police, including the right to hire or terminate staff — including the chief.
In the deal engineered by the city, the mayor’s office will retain administrative authority. However, the court will appoint a “compliance director” who will answer only to the court and can discipline and/or demote police personnel — including the chief — but only with written notice and court approval. Unlike a receiver — who would be an agent of the overseeing authority — a compliance director can be nominated by the city, giving the local government at least a nominal say.
Civil rights attorney Jim Chanin, who helped craft the settlement, see the difference between a “receiver” and a “compliance director” as a matter of semantics to spare the city’s feeling. “I see this as a receiver with a different name.”
In 2003, the city — in Allen v. City of Oakland — in response to what is now known as the “Riders Scandal,” was forced to pay almost $11 million to 119 plaintiffs and brought the city’s police force under the federal court’s conservatorship, where it remains today. The “Riders” were four heavily-lauded veteran Oakland police officers who were able to bring in drug dealers in record numbers, mostly due to unlawful beatings and illegal detentions.
Recently, the police force has been criticized for having a drawn weapon targeted at a 19-month-old child — which the police force attests was a mistake — and for having an unacceptable number of unsolved homicide cases — which was blamed on budget limitations and the lack of cooperation from the community. Other citizen concerns are that prostitution rings in Oakland are under police protection and that city-hired police consultant William Bratton’s installed a stop-and-frisk protocol into a police force most Oakland residents distrust already.
William Bratton has served on both the New York City and Los Angeles police departments, where his stop-and-frisk and zero-tolerance policies were (and still are) notorious.
With millions spent to keep the police department from being fully taken over by the federal government and in legal fees and punitive actions, the city was forced to tighten budgets — particularly, the police force budget. With an outburst in the city’s murder and burglary rates, the city actually has fewer cops on the beat. In the short term, the California Highway Patrol (CHiP) has agreed to help out the Oakland Police, but the question of who will pay for this has yet to be settled.