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Oakland residents implore city to beef up police force

By Guy Ashley   

Scores of angry residents rallied at City Hall on Tuesday night to demand immediate action to bolster a depleted police force and seize the momentum from criminals who seem to have gained the upper hand in Oakland's enduring battle with violence.

Chanting "More cops now" and "Where is our leadership?" about 75 residents gathered before the City Council meeting to blame Oakland leaders for an officer-to-citizen ratio far below that of most other large cities in California.

"People are scared," said Hannah James of Safety First Oakland, one of several citizens groups that organized the rally. "They've lost the quality of life in their neighborhoods and they want it back."

The group brandished a petition signed by about 1,200 residents calling on Oakland to immediately fill about 100 vacancies within its 802-officer police force.

Citizen frustrations have peaked in recent weeks as the city homicide rate has surged to levels three times those recorded at the same time last year. Meanwhile, neighborhoods that have dodged past crime waves have been staggered by a spate of burglaries and violent armed robberies.

Mayor Jerry Brown and Police Chief Wayne Tucker acknowledged the problem last week when they announced a police reshuffling that calls for 115 officers to be pulled from other assignments in order to focus on fighting violent crime.

The city also said it is organizing several additional police academies this year in hopes of adding more officers to a force struggling with a 12 percent vacancy rate and losing an average of three veteran officers a month to retirement.

But residents like Rick Philips chastised city leaders for enacting a police hiring freeze four years ago that seems to have depleted the ranks of available recruits. The city still has not filled the 65 additional police slots funded by a parcel tax approved by voters in November 2004.

The result, several residents said, is torturously long police response times and 911 operators who place frantic callers on hold.

"I've lived in Oakland for 19 years," Philips said. "I have children here and two grandchildren, and I'm scared to death."

 Contra Costa Times (http://www.contracostatimes.com/)

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