Neighbors and Cops Nab Burglars

When we first heard about the big burglar bust in the 5500 block of Harbord Drive on Friday, we called the Oakland Police Department to see what they could tell us. The cops said that neighbors and police had thwarted a break in at a marijuana grow house. That didn’t sound right to the neighbors, and so we held off writing anything until we could get the police report. It turns out that there was no marijuana growing in the house.

Here’s what went down according to the cops and eagle-eyed neighbors. At 2:47 pm, a neighbor called OPD to report a suspected burglary. Within minutes cops had arrived on the scene. One neighbor working in his home office looked out the window and saw three officers coming up his neighbor’s driveway with guns drawn. As he was hustling his wife and two girls upstairs, his daughter saw three people dash across the backyard deck. The man went back downstairs and saw three men crouched behind a bush across the street. He signaled their location to the police as the suspects dashed to the back of the house. Then he grabbed a baseball bat and went outside. He wasn’t the only one with that idea.

A number of residents were outside serving as extra eyes for the police. At least two men carried baseball bats. Neighbors report at least a dozen cop cars in the area. The police report doesn’t mention how many officers were there. Overkill or not, the sworn/civilian coordination worked. OPD arrested three suspects, a 15 year-old boy whose name can’t be released because he’s a minor, Matthew Buford, 19, and Michael Maes, 22. The trio drove to their would-be victim’s house in a stolen 2006 Pontiac Grand Am.

The man who saw the cops walking up his neighbor’s driveway retrieved a jar of money containing several hundred dollars in his backyard, which he was able to return to his neighbor. If the burglary had been successful, it would have been the 42nd burglary within the boundaries of 94611 in the past 60 days.

We’re Cutting Back Cops, As Expected

Finally, the City of Oakland reached the end of its 2009-2010 fiscal year.  At the City Council meeting tonight, which we watched on KTOP, things felt different because decisions simply had to be made.  A proposal actually passed!

As expected, Council members pretty much voted for the budget-balancing proposal on the floor.  The result was clear:  $11.7 million savings will come from the Oakland Police Department.

In essence, the police leadership has to cut positions or start contributing to pensions.  There were several options put forth, though we think some 80 positions will be eliminated soon.  It’s possible that police could get added back, depending on machinations over voter-approved Measure Y.

Meanwhile in Montclair, there have been rumbles about having private security arrangements – but no groundswell from what we can tell.  No one seems particularly panicked, yet.

When Three Cops Hang Out

Not much of a headline here, but there was something very comforting about seeing three local cops hanging out at our coffee place last night.  Yet they weren’t chilling with their dinner salads.

Instead this trio was deep in discussion, much like any work colleagues getting together.  While I wanted to overhear them, I failed miserably in my attempts to play undercover agent.

Every so often, a word or two floated over to my side of the coffee shop.  My sense is these police were chatting about subjects like performance tracking.  They were definitely in lean-forward mode – and trying to figure out how to get some stuff done.

I admit to feeling a little glow of security, with all the officers nearby.  On reflection, I also felt empathy for what they needed to accomplish.  How can any cops really be effective with the continued, steady beat of crimes around here?

On that note, some Montclarions are having a rough time lately.  There’s a new wave of car windows broken, things stolen from cars and even stolen cars.  One neighbor mentioned running after someone who was aiming to steal more the other night, but the potential perp sprinted away.

It’s a big deal when you have been violated, regardless of the overall stats and response rates.  There’s not much you can do without garages to hide your cars.  While we assume all this activity has already been reported to the police, it dampens the spirits far more than the rains.

Still there’s no question that our cops seemed to care, as I watched them huddle last night.

A Little Computing Money For Cops

Uncle Sam gave a little computing money to Oakland cops this past week.  We’re not going to look this gift horse in the mouth, but understand it triggers the Oakland Police Department to spend more on support costs.  Where are they going to find the bucks?

For a long time, Oaklanders have craved better responsiveness by their police force.  The City just received $1.3 million for CompStat, to track crime patterns more effectively.  On a geographic basis, all the reported activity – like summonses, arrests and crimes – would get closer scrutiny.  This tool and approach ideally helps the force re-set their priorities, at least weekly.

Yet the CompStat funding isn’t nearly enough.  Last January, the IT and Police Departments sent City Administrator Dan Lindheim their CompStat request for $3.3 million start-up and $1.7 million ongoing dollars.

In this request, the former police brass recommended hiring another 15 people to run the works, incurring $105k in startup costs and $1.7 million annually thereafter.  Wow!

The cops also requested $1.8 million for 200 laptops.  These acquisitions translated into $1.1 million in licenses, $240k in wireless fees (two years) and $500k in maintenance (one year).  That’s tough to chew!

We don’t know if all these additional, gold-plated resources are needed or not.  We do know that getting this federal grant isn’t a free ride for the City of Oakland.

More info:   No CompStat for OPDCompStat RequestSay Hello To My Little FriendCompStat In Practice

Does Community Policing Work?

Maybe we’ll never know, for sure, whether community policing works.  “The emperor has no clothes,” declared Montclarion Jim Dexter.  “There’s no information about what the PSOs are doing…no accounting as to what they are really doing.”

Jim Dexter was a public commenter appearing at the Measure Y Oversight Committee meeting, last Monday.  He appreciated the good work from local PSOs (problem solving officers), but was responding to the performance report presented that evening.

Latest Measure Y Report

It was interesting to hear Oakland’s consultants report on Measure Y performance, which was gauging whether “community policing adhered to the principles of Measure Y.”  The presenter pointed to police department accomplishments which included assigning officers to all beats, cooperating with neighborhood crime prevention councils, and improving geographic accountability.

The consultant discussed some failures as well.  First, PSO slots experience high turnover and that’s a barrier to success.  Additionally, current information systems limit the ability to analyze problems or manage expenditures.  There didn’t seem to be any shared vision or articulated approach in the department, either.

Even the consultants knew they were operating with incomplete information.  In a better world, the presenter articulated what should be measured:

  • Changes in type of problems reported by residents
  • Number and type of high priority problems integrated in beat plan
  • Number and type of high priority problems successfully addressed
  • Level or implementation of problem solving model/steps
  • Changes in resident perceptions of public safety
  • Changes in resident perceptions of police
  • Changes in crime levels

More Discovery And Questions

The review is underway, but clearly not done.  On Monday, various questions emerged to understand this performance report better, especially about its comprehensiveness and validity:  Who was surveyed?  What were they asked?  How does the PSO tracking software work?  What are the PSOs required to report here?  And so forth.

Marleen Sacks, an Oaklander who filed a suit about Measure Y compliance, stated the report wasn’t critical enough.  “Everybody in this room should share the same goal…oversight of Measure Y.  This report is evidence that not everyone in the room shares that goal.  Numerous aspects of Measure Y have still not been implemented.”

No one questions the underlying realities related to budgeting and staffing of the Oakland Police Department.  It’s a foregone conclusion they don’t have administrators who might collect, slice or dice performance data.  So much for Measure Y compliance, right?