By Carla Thomas
Citizens and business owners met with elected officials on Tuesday at the Calabash restaurant in Uptown Oakland to air concerns on public safety and rising crime in their district.
Issues on the table included the need for faster police responses, connecting non-violent offenders with resources and an understanding of the Alameda County District Attorney’s prosecuting practices and role in the system’s matrix.
Area 2 Police Captain Jeff Thomason of the Oakland Police Department (OPD), Oakland District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife, Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price, and Harold Duffey, Interim City Administrator for the City of Oakland were present.
This month, OPD responded to over 20 commercial break-ins in a matter of days. Frequent shootings are occurring in areas of East and West Oakland, now tracked by Shot Spotter, which alerts police where shots have been fired and directs officers to the right place.
Moderated by Nathan Moon, advocacy director of the Ujima Neighborhood Council, and hosted by Angela Moore of Oakland’s Neighborhood Services Division, the consensus reached in the meeting was that the rise in city violence corresponded to the abundance of automatic weapons on the streets, the continuing historic crack epidemic, and a current uptick in fentanyl use.
Victims of physical violence, car break-ins and small business break-ins with no arrests have left citizens with many questions about public safety.
With so many questions and not enough answers, citizens have further updated their demand: the ability to not just feel safe in their community but actually be safe in local surroundings.
The meeting included about 40 stakeholders, even a few beyond District 3 boundaries. Chinatown community leader Darlene Wong detailed the timeline and tools used to break into a popular restaurant on Eighth Street, one of four break-ins in the area.
According to Wong, the restaurant was empty by 3:15 a.m., and within five minutes, thieves spent the next 14 minutes using a saw, bolt cutters, and a hammer to bust through the restaurant’s gate and two double doors. Wong said the damage and theft cost $36,000 and her boss, the restaurant’s owner is livid.
Wong said cultural dynamics and fear of retaliation have prevented residents right across the street from reporting incidents.
“We have neighbors right across from our business, but fear of retaliation is big in the culture,” she said.
Wong hopes that a third-party patrol company and community liaisons will work more closely with the Chinatown Improvement Council.
Nina Moore, third-generation owner of Everett & Jones Barbeque Restaurant in Jack London Square, said their establishment had been victimized by theft twice in one week.
“They trashed the office and stole two safes,” said Moore. “It’s very stressful because my mom started this business in 1973. We are family-owned and -operated. My sister and I inherited and now run the business after our mom passed of cancer two years ago. We need more support for our businesses and public safety,” said Moore.
Price listened closely to the concerns during the meeting and explained that up until now the function of the District Attorney’s office has been the same for 100 years.
She acknowledged that lack of resources and even under-utilized resources have impacted the community and clarified that she has no authority over the OPD or how it functions, and the OPD has no authority over her.
Hiring eight new attorneys and two for mental health are the beginning of change, according to Price. “We spent the month of January reviewing cases and found 37 people in jail that are incompetent for trial,” said Price.
She also explained that mental illness is not a crime and mentally ill citizens that need an alternative should have been referred or sent to the Care and Navigation Center (CNC).
With two years of a three-year contract and a $300,000 annual budget, Price says the center has only served six people. “With no oversight and accountability under the previous administration, we end up with people in need of medical care or in need of a time of respite at the CNC, sent to jail and forgotten.”
Price also explained many are reluctant to be transported to a care center in the back of a police car.
Until a few weeks ago there was only one mental health liaison for the entire county. Price said. “There are many systemic changes we are currently working on. I just increased my staff to support those with mental health issues.”
Plans to work closely with community-based organizations in a full-service partnership with the Alameda County Behavioral Health Department and the Sheriff’s Department are underway, Price said.
Shared data, interdepartmental communications, and the use of collateral courts for qualifying defendants are also changes she’s making.
“We interact with 19 agencies. We can’t prosecute unless a case is referred to the D.A. To date, there was no data on referrals, public or private. There has been no public transparency or internal accountability. We’re working with I.T. on a data system to track everything.”
Pastor Lankford of the Oakland Private Industry Council and his team of citizen patrollers offered alternatives to police intervention. “When members of and from the community interact with non-violent offenders, a compassionate liaison can produce a better outcome.”
Richard Johnson, founder and executive director of FIGB, Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back, observed that many OPD SUVs are posted in the community with the engines on for hours. “I think it would be better for the environment if we had some police patrols on e-bikes”
For residents and businesses dealing with homelessness in the neighborhoods, Duffey, Oakland’s Interim City Administrator for the City of Oakland, said he is temporarily tasked with the city’s 800 homeless encampments.
Duffey discussed the process of closing city encampments and how sometimes the rules and regulations delay progress. “Our efforts to just remove encampment debris are thwarted if a person claims the items as their personal property.”
Fife empathized with the community’s frustrations and explained that the issues raised have been systemic for a long time, and she’s all about solutions and thinking “outside of the box.”
Fife suggested strengthening the 311 system and recently launched a micro-program pilot to pay a group of techies to improve the system’s functions. “311 is an operational system, but not completely funded, however we’re changing that.”
Shawn Upshaw, Triangle Response Coordinator for the City’s Department of Violence Prevention, said that more community liaisons need to be funded for violence prevention and support of people at the scene of a crime or homicide.
The post Seeking Solutions to Crime Wave, Oakland District 3 Community Holds Safety Forum with Police, Elected Leaders first appeared on Post News Group. This article originally appeared in Post News Group.