Following the City of Oakland’s failure to meet deadlines for grants worth millions of dollars in police funding, the local branch of the NAACP asked city leaders to call a state of emergency and immediately prioritize public safety in the city because of rising crime.
“A missed opportunity to secure $15 million is a significant setback for the City of Oakland,” Terry Wiley, the retired chief assistant district attorney for Alameda County, which includes Oakland, said in a Sept. 18 news conference. “Especially when we’re faced with pressing challenges. I’ve seen crime in the '90s and early 2000s to today, and there have been persistent crime problems, but I’ve never seen what Oakland is experiencing today.”
Crime is up 27 percent since last year, with violent crime—including homicide, aggravated assault, and rape—up 20 percent over the same period, and robberies up 31 percent, according to Oakland Police Department statistics released on Sept. 18.
Carjackings are up 20 percent, with 504 occurrences this year, while more than 10,000 vehicles have been burglarized, with another 10,500 stolen so far this year, jumping by 43 percent and 51 percent, respectively, according to police data.
At the news conference, called “Oakland Got Nothing!,” speakers called for independent investigations to uncover why city officials missed a July 7 deadline to apply for the state’s organized retail theft grant program that provides a combined $267 million to 55 cities and counties.
“The failure of our City of Oakland to apply for the retail theft grant requires an investigation by a private auditor,” Mr. Wiley said. “It is our duty to seek transparency and accountability in this matter.”
“City residents have a right to know," he said. "The citizens of Oakland deserve better than what we received in this particular case.”
Some questioned the possible motivations behind the city’s failure to apply for grants on time, suggesting that agendas to limit police funding could be a factor.
“Missed the deadline sounds like negligence. ... It sounds like it’s an accident, a matter of irresponsibility,” said Greg McConnell, a lifelong member of the NAACP and president of the Oakland-based nonprofit public policy group Jobs and Housing Coalition. “I think it’s more. We’ve got reason to question whether this was a product of somebody missing the deadline—not paying attention—or a discussion to not seek the funds.”
The debate between criminal justice reform and public safety has been a struggle in the Legislature, especially this legislative session, as some lawmakers have demanded that education and rehabilitation be prioritized as a way to mitigate crime.
“Some prefer the money to go to social programs,” Mr. McConnell said. “We agree money should go to social programs, but when you’ve got people getting killed, robbed in the streets ... first, you have to stop that.”
The issue was brought up this summer when Oakland City Council member Janani Ramachandran proposed paying for a grant writer to assist the Oakland Police Department and other departments with applications to improve public safety.
The motion resulted in a 4–4 tie, triggering the need for Mayor Sheng Thao to weigh in as the tiebreaker. She voted against the proposal.
“When we talk about public safety, we need to talk about upstream and not just downstream,” Ms. Thao said during the June 26 City Council meeting. “We need to talk about preventative measures, and that includes making sure that we get grants for our kids, as well, and so for that very reason, that basic and simplistic reason, I’m going to vote no.”
Critics pointed to that decision as potentially leading to the failure to receive the retail theft program grant money, with one councilor questioning the balance of power in local government.
“We have a mayor form of government,” City Councilor Noel Gallo said during the Sept. 18 news conference. “It’s not the council.”
A local business leader spoke about the effect crime is having on businesses, with many shutting down, others closing early due to safety concerns, and theft and vandalism causing monetary losses for stores across the city.
“Many businesses are suffering, along with the people. Many businesses are closing early because employees don’t feel safe,” Carl Chan, president of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, said during the press conference. “It’s not right. Something has to be done.”
With retail thefts in Oakland at unprecedented levels, some retailers are choosing not to file loss claims with insurers for fear of losing their insurance.
“Some owners are afraid to report losses to insurance companies because they don’t want their policies canceled,” Mr. Chan said. “We want to send a message to the city that enough is enough.”
In response to the problem, local businesses are planning a one-day strike, with the date to be determined soon, in protest of the lack of public safety.
“If the city is incapable of working with the people, then they need to learn,” Mr. Chan said. “They work for the people.”
The grant could have gone to funding for more police on patrol, additional vehicles, and automatic license plate readers to assist investigators with identifying suspects, organizers of the news conference said.
“We are shocked, perplexed, and furious that the City of Oakland forfeited millions of dollars in crime prevention funding by missing a state grant deadline,” organizers wrote in a statement the day before the news conference. “This is a devastating blow to the citizens, and small businesses, of Oakland who are clamoring for crime prevention measures.”
Reiterating the group’s calls from early this year, community leaders are requesting the city declare a state of emergency and prioritize resources to address public safety concerns.
“We have demanded the city declare a public safety emergency and focus attention on securing resources from the state, and others, to combat mushrooming crime in Oakland,” the group wrote in the statement.
Organizers presented a 10-point plan to make Oakland safe for the community, including staffing the police department to at least 1,000 officers and rehiring LeRonne Armstrong as chief—after Ms. Thao fired him in January over allegations that he covered up an investigation into an officer.
Mr. Armstrong cited on Sept. 18 a recently released report by a state arbitrator as evidence that he should be reinstated and threatened to take legal action if he isn't.
Oakland officials didn't respond by press time to multiple requests by The Epoch Times for comment.