Oakland to Widen Community Police


All patrol officers would have roles in neighborhoods

San Francisco Chronicle

Oakland -- The Oakland Police Department hopes to improve crime fighting and community relations through a major restructuring that would scrap the 5-year- old community policing unit and shift its role to all patrol officers.

"For years, we've had community policing in name only. We haven't gotten to the nuts and bolts of it," Police Chief Richard Word told the City Council's public safety committee yesterday.

The committee unanimously approved Word's plan, which has won tentative backing from neighborhood leaders. The full council will consider it on Jan. 15.

Under community policing, the city was divided into 57 beats, each with an officer assigned to work with a neighborhood crime-prevention council in dealing with problems such as drug dealing.

By many accounts, the program helped bridge distrust between police and the community. But its success varied from neighborhood to neighborhood, and the program was plagued by unfilled positions and temporary reassignments of officers to cover weekend events.

In addition, Word said, "there was some animosity" from patrol officers, who considered the community police officers "prima donnas" who didn't have to chase 911 calls. And many patrol officers continued to have an uneasy relationship with residents.

The most notorious examples were the four West Oakland patrol officers known as "the Riders," who were fired and face criminal charges of beating suspects and lying on police reports.

Under the proposed plan, the community policing officers would join the patrol squad, bringing the total to more than 300. All officers would be assigned to one of 35 beats and required to attend neighborhood crime meetings.

Each squad car would be equipped with a cell phone that community leaders could call 24 hours a day.

"Every officer . . . must view him or her self as a community policing officer," Word said in a report spelling out the changes.

With the increase in patrol officers, Word said, police could respond more quickly to the 2,800 to 3,000 911 calls each day, while still devoting an estimated 40 percent of their time to "problem-solving."

Ten lieutenants would divide the city geographically and be responsible for both crime reduction and officer conduct.

Members of the city's Community Policing Advisory Board said they were willing to give Word's plan a try, acknowledging that the current system works only sporadically. But they are cautious.

"The proposed reorganization calls for profound changes in the culture and operations" of the department, said Don Link, a North Oakland resident who is chairman of the advisory board.

"A failure to accomplish the changes promised will leave Oakland's citizens where they were in the early 1990s: stuck with old-fashioned, reactive policing and no role in determining how police services are delivered to their neighborhoods."

Among the concerns is whether any time will be left for so-called problem solving if all officers have to answer 911 calls.

Word said the goal of allowing sufficient time for problem solving can be achieved only if 46 vacancies are filled, bringing the department to a total of 778 officers.

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