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Phil Matier: Oakland’s Understaffed Police Department

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Oakland Police patrol cars. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Phil-Matier_BIO-HEAD Phil Matier
Whether it's politics, personalities or analysis Phil Matier is one ...
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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — There has been more violence in Oakland in just the last 24 hours alone. Victims have ranged from commuters waiting for a casual carpool pickup in Rockridge to an elderly man killed after teens plowed an SUV in his vehicle as they were fleeing from the police in East Oakland on Monday night. There is also recent reports of suicides by two of Oakland Police Officers.

It seems clear the department’s understaffing is having some serious repercussions.

Being a police officer is a tough job, especially in Oakland, where cops are alone in their cars. Often, there are few on the streets and they are a great distance apart.

And if you’re a cop, it’s guaranteed that whatever situation that you walk into, somebody is not going to be happy. It’s unlike the Fire Department, or any other job with high stress, where there’s often some sense of reward. With cops, the stress lingers and can take its toll.

But these last few days in Oakland are just highlighting what Oaklanders have learned to live with—that in the middle of the day, when everything appears to be normal, bad things can suddenly happen.

Yesterday I was in Oakland doing a television story at BART headquarters at Lake Merritt and the cameraman and I were saying how wonderful and beautiful it is, with joggers and others enjoying the day. But if we go into that area, we are required to have security guard with us. Bay Area television stations have put this measure in place because of the armed thefts of television crews. There was even an incident in which thieves attacked a cameraman, took the camera and ran off—while they were broadcasting live—in the middle of the day.

It’s a lot like a Stephen King novel where everything is fine one moment and suddenly—in broad daylight and out of nowhere—a robbery happens right if front of you and you can’t believe it.

The good news with the carpooler robbery, besides that no one was hurt, is the suspect picked the wrong victims. These casual carpoolers actually observed what was happening and didn’t have a problem calling police to report it.

This same type of robbery could have taken place in another part of Oakland where there is a large immigrant community—where people don’t speak English. Those people may not have observed the partial license plate or even called the police at all. They are also probably less willing to come forward later as witnesses.

It really is a tale of two cities and when one city spills into the other, everyone takes notice. And when you have police response times of 17 minutes and are understaffed, word gets out fast to criminals. They can hit their target and be safely on their way with ver little worry.

And it’s not just Oakland; it’s spreading out to other cities. Berkeley has seen an increase of robberies and so has San Francisco. There is a good chance that if you’re carrying a smartphone while walking down Market Street, someone will knock it out of your hand and run off with it—that’s a quick $300 and there’s one around to stop them.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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