Homicides have increased in most large American cities this year but Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said today she’s pleased that overall crime in her city, including homicide, has decreased even though its Police Department has been racked by scandals.
Schaaf said the decrease in Oakland “is nowhere near as much as I’d like to see” but she’s happy that violent crime, which includes murder, non-negligent manslaughter, aggravated assault, robbery and rape, has dropped by about 5 percent this year.
She also said the decrease in violent crime in 2016 marks the third straight year that violent crime has declined in Oakland. Schaaf said, “That’s a pretty big deal” because in the last 30 years there’s been only been one other period in which there was a period of at least three years in which violent crime was reduced, that being from 2000
Homicides increased by a small amount during Schaaf’s first year as mayor in 2015 but she said that according to one measure of counting they’ve decreased from 92 at this time last year to 83 so far this year.
Schaaf attributed Oakland’s drop in crime partly to Operation Ceasefire, a strategy that the city implemented four years ago. It involves police, prosecutors, community leaders and service providers meeting with reputed gang members to offer support and tell them that gun violence must stop.
But she also credited “all city employees,” including the city’s Human Services Department, and the city’s many community partners. “We have a holistic approach to public safety,” Schaaf said.
The mayor said another reason for the reduction in violent crime is that the city has hired 125 more officers in recent years to bring its total number of officers to 748. That number will increase to 774 at the end of January when 26 officers graduate from a training academy, Schaaf said.
Her goal is to bring the total to 800 officers but she said recent scandals involving new officers make it clear that the city has to screen potential officers more carefully and not sacrifice quality for quantity.
Although the violent crime trend is in the right direction, Schaaf said, “We’re nowhere near where we need to be” in making Oakland even safer.
The Oakland Police Department has been rocked by several problems this year, including a sexual misconduct scandal involving the teenage daughter of a police dispatcher that resulted in some officers being fired and charged with felonies.
The scandal led former Police Chief Sean Whent to suddenly resign on June 9 and Schaaf placed City Administrator Sabrina Landreth in charge of the Police Department on June 15 after several interim chiefs lasted only a few days.
Acting Assistant Police Chief David Downing is in charge of tactical and operational matters. Schaaf said today that she hopes to name a new permanent chief “very soon” but declined to name a specific date or say how many finalists she interviewed.
She said, “I’m really pleased with the quality of the candidates we had to choose from.”