Oakland is the 8th largest city in California, located in the San Francisco Bay Area. Its population of 404,155 is multi-racial, the largest groups being white 36.9%, black 29.8%, Hispanic/Latino 25.2%, and Asian 15.6%. As much as 17.7% of households are single-mother husbandless families, many of whom are among the 15.3% of families who are below the poverty line. In August 2009, the city has an unemployment rate of 17.5%.
In a November 2008 Congressional Quarterly Press publication, the city of Oakland ranked 5th worst in a nationwide ranking of violent crime. The ranking counted six crime categories: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft.
Like the state of California, Oakland has a severe budget shortfall. 75% of the city’s $407 million budget is devoted to police and fire; 10% to debt service alone.
Faced with a deficit of $42 million for fiscal year 2010 that began on July 1, the city negotiated with the police union. But the negotiations broke down over job security. The police union demanded that the city guarantee that its officers would not be laid off for three years in exchange for giving up some pension benefits that would have eased the city’s budget problems. City leaders, however, said it would have been irresponsible of them to agree to protect police jobs for more than one year because the city’s budget problems are likely to worsen. Next year, the deficit is projected at roughly $50 million.
So on July 13, 2010, the city laid off 80 police officers – the first such layoff in at least 30 years – leaving the department with 695 officers. The police warned that the layoffs would imperil the city, which has California’s highest violent crime rate. “Every time you lay us off, there’s a gun to the citizen’s head as well,” said Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association.
A mere 5 days after Oakland laid off 80 police officers, a routine police stop in West Oakland erupted into gunfire when someone with a rifle opened fire from a high-rise building.
As Henry K. Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle reports, the incident began when an officer pulled a car over on the 1000 block of Eighth Street at 11:17 p.m. Police found crack cocaine in the vehicle. During the car stop, someone opened fire with a rifle. The officer called for emergency backup, and police swarmed the area.
Police determined that the shooter had been firing from a high-rise building at 1055 Eighth St., which is part of the City Towers housing complex, authorities said. Many units in the building are Section 8 government-subsidized housing. No one was struck by the gunfire, and a search of the area by foot and with a helicopter failed to turn up the shooter, said Officer Jeff Thomason, a police spokesman.
The loss of 80 police officers also means that Oakland’s police will no longer respond to certain crimes. Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts said there are now 44 situations to which his officers will no longer respond, including grand theft, burglary, car wrecks, identity theft and vandalism. Henceforth, victims of these crimes will have to let police know on-line.
The city government is now threatening to lay off 120 more officers unless the city receives a $50 million taxpayer bailout in November. Added to the 80 officers already laid off, that will mean a total reduction of 25% of Oakland’s police force.