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Oakland Murder Investigators Worry About More Cuts

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An Oakland Police patrol car. (CBS)

An Oakland Police patrol car. (CBS)

OAKLAND (CBS 5) — On Friday, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan will announce a new budget that may include layoffs of more police officers. Investigators who are already overwhelmed with an increasing number of murder cases say it’s likely to get worse.

Surveillance video caught a murder on 16th street on a January day. The victim was 38 year old Terrance Thompkins and his toddler daughter was just a few feet away.

Sergeant Tony Jones is investigating the case: “I think that anytime someone is murdered in broad daylight the goal of the offender is to send some kind of message,” he said.

Jones and his boss Lt. Brian Medeiros were the first homicide detectives on the scene of what would become one of 11 murders in January.

“I don’t think most people in the city are aware of the caseload,” said Medeiros.

There have been 34 murders in Oakland so far this year, that’s 17 percent more than the same time last year. Yet the number of homicide detectives is down from 14 last year, to 9 now.

So where did these much needed investigators go? “Some of our sergeants get sent on patrol,” said Medeiros. Leaving detectives like Jones with heavy caseloads. He’s currently investigating more than 40 murders.

“Ideally no investigator would take more than five homicides a year,” said Medeiros. “That would be the federal standard from the Department of Justice.” Under federal standards, Oakland should have 20 homicide detectives.

So CBS 5 asked Assistant Chief Howard Jordan if that was a likelihood. He said it was a question we should take up with the mayor.

CBS 5 then asked Mayor Jean Quan. “I would say go ask the chief,” she said. “I believe the chief is going to be re-organizing his department.”

But hiring more officers is out of the question. “The OPD is 50 percent of my budget right now. If I had to cut all of my parks and libraries to give them the other 15 percent of the budget I actually think crime would go up, because part of reducing crime is engaging young people getting them jobs and some hope.

In fact, the staffing situation at the Oakland Police Department could get even worse. “If we are forced to make more cuts I don’t plan to do layoffs, I plan to do furloughs instead. We’ll keep patrol at the same level. But that may mean other kinds of investigations will go slower,” Quan said.

That includes homicide investigations. And that may mean equally bad news for the families seeking justice. “I will be very honest with the mother and father. Right now with the staffing, I have to do the best I can. If there are no leads, the case will remain inactive,” said Medeiros.

In the Terrance Thompkins murder, there are leads, including the surveillance video. But Jones said, “The criminals, they know that we are short-staffed. I am preparing for things to get more challenging.”

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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