Crime in Oakland, California
|Crime rates (2011)|
|Total Violent crime:||1682.7|
|Motor vehicle theft:||1595.2|
|Total Property crime:||5287.9|
* Number of reported crimes per 100,000 population.
|Source: Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report|
Crime in Oakland began to escalate during the late 1960s, and by the end of the 1970s Oakland's per capita murder rate had risen to twice that of San Francisco or New York City. In 1983, the National Journal referred to Oakland as the "crime capital" of the San Francisco Bay Area. Crime continued to escalate during the 1980s and 1990s, and during the first decade of the 21st century Oakland has consistently been listed as one of the most dangerous large cities in the United States.
Among Oakland's 35 police patrol beats, violent crime remains a serious problem in specific East and West Oakland neighborhoods. In 2008, homicides were disproportionately concentrated: 72% occurred in three City Council districts, District 3 in West Oakland and Districts 6 and 7 in East Oakland, even though these districts represent only 44% of Oakland's residents.
Challenges of crime
Crime remains one of Oakland's most serious challenges, and Oakland continues to have a reputation among its own citizens, its understaffed police force, and residents of other Bay Area cities as a dangerous place, with one of the top five highest rates of violent crime in the U.S. According to Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts, during 2011 Oakland has averaged three street shootings per day, some of which cause injury or death to innocent bystanders. Batts also said “You don’t want a police state, but you want enough [police] to deal with the demand in the city.”
The number of police officers in Oakland has steadily declined during the past several years. "But the men and women of the Oakland Police Department are still going out there and still stopping dangerous people, people with weapons, and trying to make a difference in the community," said Officer Jeff Thomason, a department spokesman.
Oakland ranks highly in California for most categories of crime, and violent crimes including assault, rape and murder occur from two to five times the U.S. average. The 120 murders recorded in 2007 made Oakland's murder rate third highest in California, behind Richmond and Compton. Historically, most murders have occurred in West Oakland and the flatlands of East Oakland between I-580 and I-880. Montclair, Rockridge and some areas in North Oakland have fewer problems with violent crime.
Property crime is widespread throughout the city. Oakland records one robbery per 91 residents and  Carjackings occur two to three times more frequently in Oakland than in other cities of comparable size, and police have recorded at least one reported carjacking in every Oakland neighborhood.
African Americans comprise less than one-third of Oakland's residents, yet they are over-represented in crime statistics, and most homicides occur in African-American neighborhoods. Journalist Earl Ofari Hutchinson mentions crime in Oakland as an example of a rising problem of "black-on-black" crime, which Oakland shares with other major cities in the US. Bill Cosby mentions Oakland, Chicago and Detroit as some of the many American cities where crime is "endemic" and young African-American men are being murdered and incarcerated in disproportionate numbers. Cosby opines that the parents of such youths and young men, and "the Black community in general," have failed to inculcate proper standards of moral behavior. African American boys in Oakland also face significant educational challenges due to high crime rates in their communities: for the 10 years to 2013 "787 black boys and men in Oakland were victims of homicide. During that same time, just 802 graduated prepared to attend either a California State University or University of California school."In 2010 the superintendent of Oakland schools set up an African-American male achievement initiative with one of its goals being to cut incarceration rates of black male students by half.
In 2006, when Oakland's homicide count reached its highest total in more than a decade, the five-year average for homicide victims in Oakland was broken down as follows: 77% Black, 15.4% Hispanic, 3.2% White, 2.8% Asian and 1.6% Unknown. The five-year average for homicide suspects in Oakland breaks down as follows: 64.7% Black, 8.6% Hispanic, 0.2% White, 2.0% Asian and 24.4% Unknown. In 2006, homicide victims under the age of 18 tripled compared to previous years. Five year averages compiled for 2001–2006 showed that 30% of murder victims were between the ages of 18 to 24 and another 33% were between 25 and 34 years old. Males made up 96% of suspects and 88% of victims.
In 2011, there was an increase in violent crime in general and homicides in particular. As during previous years, a large majority (100) of the 110 homicide victims, as well as a preponderance of known suspects, were black or Latino. The homicide drop in 2010 had been the city's fourth in a row, and violent crime in general had dropped 27%. Although the police department’s resources have been diminishing, according to Assistant Police Chief Howard Jordan the Oakland police department is committed to improved public safety by increasing police presence during peak crime hours, improving intelligence gathering, and moving more aggressively to arrest violent crime suspects.
Crime against the city's taco truck vendors in the Fruitvale district came under scrutiny after the killing of a vendor's 5-year-old son in December 2011. Some truck vendors responded by hiring armed security guards, citing continual robberies and ineffective police response times.
As of November 2012, the city had experienced 115 killings that year, with 4 considered "justifiable", such as in self-defense or officer-related killings. This included the killing of seven people on April 2 at Oikos University, the largest mass killing in the city's history. 22 homicide victims were women, up from 10 the previous year. Killings related to arguments were at 18, compared to nine in 2011. 9 were domestic violence-related, compared to 7 in 2011. Retaliation killings were at 14, compared to 8 in 2011. Confirmed gang-related killings were at 10, with 15 gang-related killings in 2011.
Internal issues with the Oakland Police Department
Despite its high crime rate, Oakland has fewer police officers than many other major cities. "When Police Chief Anthony Batts took this job, we started out with 830 officers. We're down to about 666 officers. If this city is going to be a safe place for us to live and raise our family then we as a city have to determine what it's going to cost us to do that and how to get there," Oakland City Council President Larry Reid agreed with Batts that more police officers are needed but said that "residents will have to open their wallets first."
Partly due to an ongoing negative rapport between police officers and community members, evidence of which can be traced back to times preceding The Black Panther Party, and which reemerged in the wake of the Oakland Riders scandal in 2003, the shooting of Oscar Grant in 2009, and the controversial handling of Occupy Oakland protesters in 2011 (including two separate instances of critical injury inflicted on peacefully protesting Iraq War veterans). The city has a notoriously low success rate in solving murders.
A remarkably small percentage of current Oakland police officers live in the city itself.
In Oakland, the number of police officers has been declining. Between 2003 and 2013, the number of police officers in Oakland declined by 91. The number of crimes that each officer has to deal with is double or triple those handled by officers in other major California cities. The number of homicide detectives decreased from 14 in 2010 to 9 in 2011. Detective caseload is more than any other major city in California, except Fresno. In 2008, the Police Department had the lowest homicide clearance rate among California’s large cities because the department is understaffed and the detective work in certain instances is not as thorough because there are simply not enough officers.
Comparative police staffing levels
In 2004, the number of police officers per 10,000 residents was as follows:
Since that year the number of police officers in Oakland has been cut by approximately 13% to 15.6 per 10,000 residents, resulting in Oakland being called "the city with half a police department." Official estimates are that for a city with Oakland's level of crime approximately 1,100 officers are needed to adequately patrol the city; as of the beginning of 2013, Oakland employed only 616 officers.
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- Pacific News Service. Earl Ofari Hutchinson, August 13, 2002. Black on Black—Why Inner-City Murder Rates Are Soaring. Accessed 2008-08-09.
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- Charts: Homicides in California’s largest cities; Oakland homicide detectives’ case loads, wages, overtime | The Chauncey Bailey Project
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