OAKLAND – This city’s beleaguered Police Department on Tuesday was among more than three dozen law enforcement agencies across the state to receive a combined $19.6 million in grants for new hires from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
For Oakland – which saw its sworn police force shrink by 25% over the last five years – the news marked a high point in the fight against sky-high crime rates.
It comes as the first police academy in four years – which graduated in March – wraps up its field training. The second academy, which began in the spring, graduates Friday. Supplementing those new recruits, the city’s $4.5-million federal award will soon fund 10 additional officers for three years.
Sean Maher, spokesman for Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, said the hires will likely be lateral transfers from other departments, who require less training but are sometimes difficult to retain.
“It’s the latest in a comprehensive campaign to rebuild the Police Department that’s finally seeing the numbers turning around,” Maher said.
Due to budget cuts, Oakland's Police Department dwindled from 836 officers in 2008 to just 614 today. Last year saw the crime rate soar, making the city of fewer than 400,000 residents the robbery capital of the nation. While homicides are down somewhat this year over last, robberies with a firearm have climbed by nearly 50%.
Indeed, gun crimes are so prevalent that Oakland officials helped craft legislation authored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) that would exempt the city from state law and allow it to create its own firearms registration and licensing program. The bill is on the governor’s desk.
At a news conference Tuesday in Oakland, Melinda Haag, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, said the extra officers who will be hired as a result of the grants “will bring much needed reinforcements to those cities and counties who can use them most…[They] are further building blocks that strengthen the partnerships among the federal, state, and local law enforcement organizations."
Statewide, the grants will pay for 105 officers over the next three years. The only other city to receive funding for as many positions as Oakland was Sacramento. Alameda County, Inglewood and Modesto, meanwhile, each received funding for eight officers; all other agencies were awarded funds for between one and four hires.
Among other Southern California cities, the grant will fund officers in: Burbank (three), Brawley (two), Chula Vista (four), Coachella (two), Colton (two), Corona (three), Desert Hot Springs (one), Hemet (two) and Signal Hill (one).