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Feature Stories

Tale of Two City's Crime

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 4

By Steve Propes

It could be called the 21st Century Tale Of Two Cities. With a population of 462,267, Long Beach is the 36th-largest city in the nation and the seventh-largest in California; Oakland with a population of 409,723 is the eighth-largest city in the state, and the 47th-largest city in the U.S.

In the past several years, about a quarter of Oakland’s police force has been laid off. According to a resident of the upper-middle class Dimond section in the Oakland hills, their city is down to a police force of 600 active personnel, well below the 900 cops that were budgeted for five years ago.

In 2008, Long Beach had 961 budgeted officers; Oakland had 837 officers. Crime was a problem, but it wasn’t a critical problem. As of February 2013, Long Beach’s east side and Belmont Shore has not experienced a noticeable increase in violent crime, but in the hills of Oakland, it’s an entirely different matter.

Put succinctly, robberies and home invasions have spiked in the relatively placid Oakland Hills since the beginning of the year. In 2012, Oakland had 131 murders, up from 110 murders in 2010 compared to the 30 murders in Long Beach in 2012, up from 26 in 2011.

Other crimes have stoked the fear felt by Oakland Hills residents, one of whom noted, “we had 67 robberies in one week, 37 break-ins in our neighborhood and it still goes on. We’ve been targeted. A local butcher taking money to the bank got robbed. When we call 911, unless ‘we say robbery in progress,’ they don’t come.”
“It’s two types of crime going on at once; kids with their underwear showing, running in the door, taking whatever they see before the alarm goes off and adults in SUVs and vans in the early morning, knocking on the door, guns in hand, putting people on the floor and robbing them. They’re probably related.” The crime wave ranges from “shooting out the stoplights to two bodies found in our creek.”

“We had First Friday art events with galleries open in the evening. During one of these art events, somebody got killed. Oakland no longer has any large gatherings where all these good things happen; there’s always some kind of disruption like Occupy Oakland, which cost the city a lot of money.”

Because of police cutbacks, “the county sheriff and the CHP have been lending support and personnel to the police department, but we haven’t seen them in our hood. We get two or three crimes a day here. Drug dealers on streets, a body in park and people robbed at gunpoint in the middle of the day.”

“Basically have a police force of 600; supposed to have over 900 for a city of our size. We cannot stand the mayor, Jean Quan. She seems to be very unpopular and has been very ineffective.” Beachcomber emails to the city, the Oakland police and to city councilwoman Libby Schaaf asking for comment were not answered.

“The latest thing they were talking about was paying a security man to hoof it around the hood.” Then there are the outside consultants. “The contract to hire William Bratton was approved last week for $250,000. There was a lot of opposition to that.” About this deal, the Contra Costa Times opined on Jan. 23, 2013, “the irony, of course, is that Oakland had a police chief in Anthony Batts with similar views to Bratton and who we believe could eventually have produced results, but the city ran him out of town.”

None of the above has been a problem on the comparable east side of Long Beach where Batts previously served as police chief. When asked about the differences, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell responded, “I don’t know enough about Oakland, or as a comparison to this city.

“We have some property crime, but we’re fortunate with violent crime on the east side of Long Beach. There are a number of reasons for this like a good community, police partnership and neighbors who look out for each other.”

“I don’t feel in a position to comment on Oakland at the time. I’m not sure where they are as far as deployment numbers, but with 600, that’s low. We’re at 792,” said McDonnell. “I can talk about Long Beach and what works here. We’re happy to come and check things out. Often we could have prevented crime had we been called. Our force is dedicated people who have a strong work ethic who want to make Long Beach safe.

“When you look at the numbers, the whole city is safe, when you compare it 40 years ago, it’s a good time for us to build relationships we don’t already have, let’s take advantage of that. Be aware of surrounding, know and talk with your neighbors. Don’t hesitate to call us, if it’s nothing, we’re all happy with that.”