Problem Solving Officers Are Gone (For Now)

In case you haven’t heard, the Oakland Police Department is scrapping its problem-solving units to cope with the 80 officer layoffs planned for today. That means Maureen Vergara leaves beat 13z less than two years after she became the village’s problem solving officer. Captain Anthony Toribio said Monday morning that Vergara’s departure will “place a greater burden on the police department to track crime trends” in 94611.

Captain Anthony Toribio (Photo by M. Gribi)

Officer Vergara isn’t the only PSO to be leaving the hills. As of Monday, Randall Chew (13x), and John Haney (13y) are no longer PSOs for their respective beats. Jim Dexter, the chair of the Beat 13y Neighborhood Council, said (as an individual) that the trio made an especially effective crime-fighting team in the hills, “literally changing and redefining the role of the PSO.” While Dexter said that PSOs were not adequately evaluated by OPD, a dynamic PSO matched with an active council could yield good results. Dexter said that was the case in beats 13x, y, and z. Until today, that is.

Of course, there’s still a chance that the negotiations between the city and the police officer’s union will prevent the planned layoff of 80 cops. If the two parties do reach a deal, the PSOs will stay. Is it possible ditching the PSOs was aimed at drawing attention to the layoffs?

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Neighborhood Policing Lives On

Community-based policing in Oakland is, at best, a work-in-progress.  Among the 57 beats scattered through the city, there are great differences in whether neighbors get involved in crime prevention councils.  We understand that beat officers are not spending 100% of their time locally, either.

In Montclair, we have two active councils that communicate priorities to Beat 13Y and 13Z officers.  We let them know where to patrol and share other concerns on a regular basis, and we often complain about slow response times when calling for help.  Our crimes are mostly about burglaries and stolen cars, rather than murders.

Like all Oaklanders, we still wonder when community policing will hit its stride.  This combination of neighbors and local cops, working together, shows real promise but hasn’t been fully realized yet.

Tagami Interviews Tucker

Tucker Talked The Talk

Wayne Tucker, Oakland’s soon-to-be former police chief, has been chanting “the mantra” of geographic and local policing efforts for several years.  In this 2007 interview with Phil Tagami (part one, part two), he focused on filling 22 of the 57 problem-solving officer (PSOs) positions and reaching 803 officer positions overall.  Tucker also believed the force should add another 300 officers.

Chief Tucker will make his swan-song this Wednesday, at the Neighborhood Watch Steering Committee meeting.  Montclair’s Nick Vigilante said the Chief plans to “address the major achievements at OPD under his command, as well as what still needs to be done and what role the residents of Oakland can play in it.”

  • You’re invited to this presentation on Wednesday, from 6:30 – 8:30pm.  It takes place at City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, in Hearing Room 4 (map), and please RSVP to Felicia Verdin at fverdin-at-oaklandnet.com or 510-238-3128.

With Tucker’s retirement as well as the severe budget gap, we wonder about changing priorities within Oakland Police department.  Will some of the community efforts fall by the wayside?  Or will it be up to citizens to keep things going?

Community Policing Might Suffer

Just today, City Attorney John Russo jumped into the fray regarding policing priorities:  “We must confront the painful truth that too many good Oakland residents live as if under siege.  We need more officers, but we don’t need them doing desk jobs that a civilian could do. We need more officers investigating and solving violent crimes.  We must have a commitment to to effective crime fighting and continued, serious reform of the Oakland Police Department.”

The Alameda County Court recently issued a tentative ruling in Marleen L. Sacks v. City of Oakland.  Judge Frank Roesch ruled that Measure Y funds were used improperly by the City.  In particular, he found that funds had been used for general police training and not specifically for community-policing functions.  Appeals have been filed by the City Attorney’s office at this point.  [Feb. 24th:  The City Attorney’s office expects to recommend an appeal filing, if the ruling is affirmed.]

Meanwhile, the budget continues to crash and burn, and the actual gap isn’t known yet.  The City Council’s Finance and Management Committee, headed by our City Rep Jean Quan, is looking at additional taxes to solve problems and is gamely trying to repeal the Measure OO which passed last year.  At some point, there have to be tougher calls which reduce headcount and salary levels – just like the private sector.

Power To the People, UNCO

Today the crime prevention councils function solely at the beat level, and citizens share safety concerns with their beat officers.  Perhaps by unifying and giving a larger voice to councils’ concerns, there could be more coordinated responses from their assigned PSOs or other cops on duty.

With this goal in mind, the first-ever United Neighborhood Councils of Oakland (UNCO) Congress is taking place tomorrow night.  The original drafters, including Montclarion Jim Dexter, believe this group will enable more direct communications to Oakland Police brass and other city officials.

  • Everyone’s welcome to participate in this first Congress on Tuesday, beginning 7:00 pm. It takes place at Patten University Activity Center, 2433 Coolidge Avenue (map), and no RSVP is required here.

By attending, you have opportunities to run for UNCO leadership roles as an Executive Committee officer or as a Public Safety Area (PSA) representative.  The meeting will also break into the six PSAs, so neighbors can begin identifying local issues as well.

Regardless of Oakland’s budgeting travails or police reforms, it’s heartening to see that citizen volunteers are trying to amplify their contributions anyway.  This kind of volunteerism should help keep community policing alive – even in the most troubled times.

Feb. 28th Update: It’s the last day for OPD Chief Wayne Tucker, with coverage by the Tribune, Chronicle, and NBC News.  Earlier this week, KTVU and Tribune reported about the Neighborhood Watch meeting.  Tucker said the city was “woefully inadequate in terms of responding to property crimes.  We just don’t have staff to do those kinds of things.”

City Boosts Public Safety Team

There seems to be some good news from City Hall, since newly-appointed public safety coordinator, Dorlista Reed, will work with her predecessor, Claudia Albano.

With both Reed and Albano on board, this team represents a boost to public safety.  Now let’s see how they work together, to support community-based policing and neighborhood watch groups.

Albano issued this message about her role:

I have accepted the position of Deputy Public Safety Coordinator, and will be working under the new Public Safety Coordinator Dori Reed.  I will be talking with her…about my specific duties and how they may relate to the Neighborhood Services Division.

Last week, City Administrator Dan Lindheim surprised “everyone” when he announced changes to the public safety team.  Coordinator Albano, who was admired by many Oaklanders, received a pink slip.

There was an immediate hue and cry from Oaklanders who relied on neighborhood services.  Montclarions and other neighbors protested loudly to City Council members, the City Administrator, and Mayor.

Well, the combination of protests and good politics kept Albano on Oakland’s payroll.  We think Oaklanders may end up with even more support for local neighborhood and safety initiatives – and that has to be a good thing.

City Rep Wants Albano Here

Jean Quan, our city council representative, seems to be picking up the torch for Claudia Albano – the city coordinator who has been actively supporting and nurturing Oakland’s neighborhood watch groups.

Yesterday we reported on the uproar surrounding the firing of Albano and re-assignment of Felicia Verdin.  It didn’t make any sense to Montclarions and others who develop grass-roots neighborhood groups.

Community Triptych

Apparently Albano will interview for another city position next week.  We’re still not sure whether she will continue to be in the driver’s seat regarding neighborhood services.

Quan clearly wants to push the matter, even though the City Council is limited in its authority.  She said “We are concerned that some front line services may be cut by the reorganization.  I expect there will be more discussion between the Mayor, Administrator and Council over the next two weeks.”

Here’s the full, uncut response from Representative Quan this morning.

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Montclarions Denounce Albano’s Firing

Some bad news was hidden in Mayor Ron Dellums’ announcement about new city appointees:  the quick firing of Claudia Albano, Oakland’s neighborhood services manager, who is much-loved among all neighborhood organizers.

Additionally Felicia Verdin, who coordinates the neighborhood watch program and community policing training, has been re-assigned to another department.  These changes are supposed to be effective by close of business, today.

Oakland Administration Gears

What the heck is this about?

When a politician or business executive first rides into town, you expect some housecleaning.  In this case, a new city administrator who isn’t new to the city, Dan Lindheim, may have some reasons to sack Albano and Verdin – or simply wants to create his own team.  We don’t know.

Yet this current team has made a difference for community volunteers.  They organize regular trainings, provide guidance and are touted as “what works” in Oakland city government.  There’s been a huge outpouring of grief from Montclarions, who have found them to be quite helpful on all safety matters (read here.)

Let’s see what happens today.

In this case, it makes sense for Mayor Dellums and City Administrator Lindheim to swallow their pride and reverse course.  Our neighborhood crime watch groups are based on volunteers and voters who value the support they have received over the past few years.  If it ain’t broke, then why break it?

Frankly I feel sorry for the new appointee, who is caught in the crossfire.  The Tribune reported that “Dorlista Reed, who helped develop the city of Berkeley’s Neighborhood Services initiative among other programs, [has been named] as public safety coordinator.”  She may be a qualified and wonderful person, but has a very hard act to follow.

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