OAKLAND, Calif. — Nearly four dozen new police officers will soon start walking their beats on the Oakland streets, as the California city's embattled department welcomes its largest-ever class of recruits to graduate from its police academy.
The 47 new police officers will bring the department's ranks to 659, a significant bump but still below what local officials say is needed in the violence-plagued, cash-strapped port city.
They were set to start off with six months of field training, beginning Saturday, when Mayor Jean Quan held a town hall meeting on public safety at a local high school.
Quan said she hopes to bring the department's staffing to 707 officers later this year.
"When I took office three years ago, we were in the midst of the recession and at our lowest budgeting for police officers in modern Oakland history," Quan said in a statement. "These new officers are a great sign of hope and progress to our residents."
Officials said the class is among the most ethnically diverse, with more than half the graduates speaking a second language, including Spanish, Tongan, Arabic, Farsi, Vietnamese, Pashto, Polish, Punjabi, Italian and Samoan, The Oakland Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1kyNr7D).
The stronger police presence comes after a series of changes in the force's leadership.
Over the last three years, the city of more than 400,000 has witnessed the departure of three police chiefs and other various city officials.
The force also has been scrutinized by a federally appointed monitor as part of court-mandated reforms to settle a multimillion-dollar lawsuit alleging widespread misconduct in the aftermath of the Riders police brutality scandal more than a decade ago.
Since Gov. Jerry Brown was mayor in the early 2000s, successive political leaders have attempted to transform Oakland's strategic location, affordable rents and vibrant cultural history into a success story. The city had cut the size of its police force from about 830 officers in 2009 to slightly more than 600 last year, making it one of the nation's most understaffed departments.
Still, the city's murder rate dropped last year to 90, marking a 28 percent decrease from the previous year, according to city statistics.
Interim police Chief Sean Whent said at the graduation of the 168th Basic Recruit Academy at the Scottish Rite Center on Friday that the officers "represent the city's commitment to increase public safety," the Tribune reported.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press