By Travis Gillmore
Rising incidents of crime in Oakland, California, are affecting quality of life, causing some to flee, and leading to calls by some community associations for more law enforcement amid a wave of violence.
While down slightly year-over-year, homicides have jumped 40 percent since 2019, with Oakland police reporting that every other category of crime shows an increase compared to last year and since before the pandemic.
Also, compared to 2019, assaults and auto break-ins have doubled, and carjackings have tripled, according to FBI statistics.
Additionally, the city rated a 1—the lowest possible score out of 100—meaning it is safer than less than 1 percent of areas across the country, according to online real estate market data firm Neighborhood Scout.
Public protests are now routine at Oakland City Council meetings, and letters to officials are pouring in, with frightened and angry residents and organizations expressing discontent.
At a July hearing with the Alameda County District Attorney and sheriff to discuss the ongoing crime wave, audience members told officials about their recent encounters.
“While I’m driving, I’m pulled out of my car at gunpoint,” one woman said. “What are we doing to address this? How do we solve this? Nobody feels safe.”
Failed Leadership, Anti-Police Rhetoric Are to Blame: NAACP
Community safety advocates are also reaching out to administrators asking for immediate action to halt the violence.
“Oakland residents are sick and tired of our intolerable public safety crisis that overwhelmingly impacts minority communities,” the Oakland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, better known as the NAACP, said in a July 27 letter to elected officials. “We call on all elected leaders to unite and declare a state of emergency and bring together massive resources to address our public safety crisis.”
The group blames criminal justice reform and efforts to minimize policing for the recent rise in crime.
“Failed leadership, including the movement to defund the police, our District Attorney’s unwillingness to charge and prosecute people who murder and commit life threatening serious crimes, and the proliferation of anti-police rhetoric have created a heyday for Oakland criminals,” the NAACP wrote in the letter. “If there are no consequences for committing crime in Oakland, crime will continue to soar.”
Oakland’s Police Department currently employs approximately 715 officers, nearly 500 fewer than necessary to protect the city, its union said in a statement released July 29. Current budget plans call for an increase to 730 officers over the next two years.
Residents No Longer Feel Safe at Home
Many residents say they no longer feel safe leaving their homes, and home invasion robberies are making some uncomfortable in their own dwellings.
“My mom and aunt live together, and they’re both older, and they don’t feel safe anymore,” Johnny Brown, a maintenance worker who has lived in Oakland most of his life, told The Epoch Times. “I bring them groceries, and I put a camera on their house, so I can watch and make sure they’re not in trouble.”
The Brown family has called Oakland home for more than 30 years, and they said the crime has never been worse.
“This is Oakland, there’s always been an element of danger, but it’s wild out here,” Mr. Brown said. “They’re getting away with so much that others are doing it too. They don’t care who you are or how much money they can get; they’re out here robbing everybody.”
Another long-time Oakland resident agreed, telling The Epoch Times that it’s not safe at night to walk or stop for gas in certain areas.
“It’s like predator and prey out here as a young woman,” LaTasha Jackson said. “We stay in groups at night and still don’t feel safe, and forget about pumping gas alone, that’s just asking to get robbed.”
Crimes committed during daylight are also on the rise, with car break-ins at historic levels and armed robberies approaching all-time highs, according to the Oakland Police Officers Association.
A recent video showed an elderly ice cream street vendor robbed by armed men wearing masks, but in a sign of solidarity, the community came together and raised thousands of dollars for the victim.
While complaints and requests for action are numerous, city leaders say they are taking steps to address the concerns.
Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao recently announced a collaboration with Gov. Gavin Newsom to bring California Highway Patrol officers to the city, in addition to a $1.5 million grant to install license plate readers in high crime areas, intended to identify criminals and track down suspects.
“Strong partnerships are critical in making our city safer,” said Ms. Thao in a press release Aug. 3 announcing the deal. “Our comprehensive community safety approach includes both accountability for those who commit crime as well as prevention and deterrence efforts to stop crime before it occurs.”
While acknowledging efforts to reduce crime, Ms. Thao insisted more must be done.
“As a city, we’ve worked hard to make it safer,” she said in a statement Aug. 8. “We know we need to do more.”
Law enforcement officials recognize the dilemma facing residents and urged the community to unify and protect each other.
“In recent weeks, we’ve seen a surge in violence which has impacted our community and it’s concerning for all of us who work, live and visit the City of Oakland,” said Interim Police Chief Darren Allison in a joint statementwith the mayor in May. “Our city, like many other major cities, is facing very challenging times and it is crucial we come together to take a collaborative approach when it comes to addressing crime in Oakland.”
Police Suggest ‘Air Horns’ to Sound off Intruders
One suggestion from the Oakland Police Department was for residents to equip themselves with air horns to sound off intruders and to alert neighbors of any disturbances.
While some are following the advice, others question the efficacy of such a plan.
“An air horn won’t save you from a robber with a gun,” Ms. Jackson said. “It might get you killed, but I don’t see it saving many lives.”
Home invasions have escalated over the past year, according to Oakland police, with videos from home security cameras posted on social media showing armed intruders robbing unsuspecting homeowners.
Authorities also say elderly residents in the Oakland Hills have been targeted repeatedly over the last few months.
Police advise, when possible, people install burglar bars on windows and doors and utilize security measures to help stop break-ins.
Cameras can also help prevent attacks and provide evidence to assist law enforcement investigations, according to experts.
For now, some Oakland residents say they’re worried about the future and are considering leaving the city.
“We can’t live in fear forever,” Ms. Jackson said. “If things don’t get better, my family will leave as soon as we can.”