World News

Borenstein: Oakland crime surges way beyond San Jose and SF levels


Crime rates are surging in Oakland this year, police are badly understaffed, and response times to critical calls are pathetically slow, making the city an increasingly dangerous place to live.

From Jan. 1 to July 23 this year, violent crime in the city is up 15% over the same period last year, and property crime has increased 28%. Don’t count on a cop to show up in a timely fashion in an emergency. If it’s not an immediate crisis, the wait can be hours or an entire day.

Even before this year’s crime surge, of the three most-populated cities in the Bay Area, Oakland crime on a per-capita basis far exceeded that of San Jose and San Francisco. Now, the difference is getting worse.

Population-adjusted data so far for 2023 shows that people are 2½ times more likely to be a victim of a violent crime in Oakland than in San Francisco and three times more likely than in San Jose.

Property crimes are similarly disproportionate in Oakland — 1.7 times more likely to victimize someone there than in San Francisco, and four times more likely than in San Jose.

Brazen and brutal crime

Indicators of Oakland’s escalating crime wave can be found in posts on Nextdoor, the car-window glass littering the streets and news reports of women being violently robbed.

The brazenness is sometimes shocking. Occupants of two vehicles engaged Monday in a midday rolling gun battle through downtown just a few blocks from police headquarters.

The crimes are brutal and frightening. A 67-year-old woman was robbed and carjacked last Sunday in the city’s hills, and a 62-year-old man who had just used an ATM at a downtown bank on Tuesday evening was beaten with a rifle, robbed and carjacked. A woman nine-months pregnant was shot Wednesday as she rode in a vehicle in East Oakland.

The 15% increase in violent crime this year in Oakland counters the national and regional trends. U.S. violent crime declined in the first half of 2023 compared with the same period in 2022, according to the Council on Criminal Justice. And it has leveled off in San Francisco and San Jose.

There is one slightly positive trend in Oakland’s violent crime data. Homicides so far in 2023 are down 13% compared to the same period in 2022. Nevertheless, when adjusted for population, Oakland this year has experienced about three times as many homicides as San Francisco and about seven times as many as San Jose.

Meanwhile, as property crime declines in San Francisco and San Jose, it has increased 28% this year in Oakland, where bad guys are having a field day breaking into cars or simply taking the vehicle. Burglaries are up 41% this year, with auto break-ins accounting for most of the cases. Motor vehicle thefts have increased a staggering 50%.

Getting a cop to show up

The chance of getting a police officer to show up quickly is small. Even with a life in immediate danger, the response will likely be unacceptably slow.

Data from the Oakland Police Department show that response times have spiked this year and are now far worse than they were just four years ago.

The department aims to keep the number of pending calls — those that dispatchers already have received but that need officers available to handle — below 100 at any time. Four years ago, crossing the 100 threshold was considered a troubling event.

Now it’s a common occurrence. Indeed, since the start of the second quarter of this year, the number has frequently topped 200. Which helps explain why response times for urgent and emergency calls roughly doubled from the first quarter of 2023 to the second.

Department dispatchers rank calls for help in three levels:

Priority One includes calls that involve imminent potential for serious injuries, prevent violent crimes or increase chances of apprehending felony suspects. For those, the average response time was about 12 minutes in spring 2019. This year it was 62 minutes in May and 36 minutes in June.

Priority Two includes urgent calls but not immediate emergencies, in-progress disputes with potential for violence, misdemeanor offenses in progress, or just-occurred felonies or misdemeanors where a quick response might help catch a suspect. In spring 2019, the average response time was 2-2½ hours. This year, it was 11 hours in May and six hours in June.

Priority Three calls are the “cold” reports, non-emergencies with no indication of danger to life or property. In spring 2019, a response would have taken an average of about six hours. In May and June this year, it was about 17 hours.

Badly understaffed

Which brings us to the fundamental problem: There aren’t enough cops in Oakland.

City officials, City Council members and Mayor Sheng Thao tout the civilian violence protection and mental health intervention programs the city has been launching. They’re laudable steps worth pursuing, but they’re not going to make a meaningful dent in the city’s deplorable response times.

There’s too much crime in Oakland for the current number of cops to handle. This staffing squeeze has been going on for more than a decade. There are 10% more people in the city today than at the police force peak in 2009 and 14% fewer sworn officers. The city’s sworn personnel number topped out 14 years ago at 830, plummeted to 613 after the Great Recession, increased to 749 by 2019, fell to 671 in 2021, and now stands at 717.

To reach the statewide staffing average, measured by the Public Policy Institute of California in 2021, of 235 cops per 100,000 population, Oakland would need more than 1,000 sworn officers.

Until residents speak out, there will be no political appetite for even returning to the 800 level in Oakland, where Thao, when she was on the City Council, and her progressive allies slowed efforts to beef up the size of the police force.

The basic question now is whether the city will even maintain the current staffing level — whether it will train and hire enough new cops to keep pace with the expected retirements in the next couple of years.

In other words, city leaders are only focused on maintaining the status quo. We see how well that’s working.


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button