September 12, 2006

The City's Top 100 Violent Offenders

For many Oakland residents, the horrifying case of Sandra Tellis has become an emblem of the dramatic increase of violent crime in this city over the last couple of years. She was beaten, tied to "an object" and set on fire in a school parking lot (just three blocks from my north Oakland apartment.) With three months left to go, the Oakland murder rate this year stands at 99, already surpassing last year's record of 95.

I have no idea how accurate the statistic is, but fliers I have seen handed out by angry neighborhood organizations claim that we have the lowest police per capita ratio of any major city in the US. There are those who will tell you that more cops doesn't necessarily equal less crime, but I'll say this: I haven't seen a cop in my neighborhood after dark in months. Maybe they should send some out here or something, just to see if it helps.

Short of that, one thing the Oakland PD is trying, according to this article, is a kind of Let's Make a Deal approach called "Operation Ceasefire":

After identifying the city's top 100 violent offenders, police plan on offering them a choice of continuing their criminal activity and being prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, or receiving employment training and other assistance to clean up their lives.
Am I crazy, or shouldn't they be prosecuting them anyhow? Why aren't they?

They have set up a medical fund for Sandra Tellis and here is the website.

Poor woman.

UPDATE: I just heard on the local news that there were two more Oakland murders this weekend, so we're up to 101.

Posted by Dr. Frank at September 12, 2006 12:35 AM | TrackBack

I taught at a school a block away from where this attack occured for nearly ten years. It's actually a nice neighborhood. The school that I teach at now is near Foothill Blvd., where many of the killings in Oakland take place. A few years back, I guess 3 or 4, our attendance secretary was found murdered and her body burned. She lived in the Temescal area, too. The worst thing about all of these murders, other than the loss of life, is that very rarely are the killers apprehended. There are hundreds of killers walking around the streets at all times. San Francisco has triple the population and a third of the murder rate.

Posted by: Brady at September 12, 2006 04:56 AM

A "nice neighborhood" provided you're not too fussy about being mugged, assaulted, murdered or burnt alive from time to time. San Francisco is not exactly Charm City, either, and its population is only double that of Oakland, not triple. Both cities are reaping the consequences of decades of a touchy-feely social policy that simply refuses to believe people can be held to some standard of civilized behavior without socially or racially oppressing them.

Posted by: llivermore at September 12, 2006 11:07 AM

You're right, Livermore, San Francisco is only double the population. As far as the neighborhood is concerend though, it isn't the hills, but it's decent. That area between Broadway and Telegraph is free from gangs and regularly patrolled due to Oakland Tech's presence there. Unfortunately muggings, assaults, and murders pervade all areas of the city occasionaly. This would include Rockridge, Piedmont Avenue, and the hills which are more than nice, they're fairly affluent. I don't think the killings are due to a touchy-feely social policy, however. If the Tribune is to be believed, most of the murders are gang-related or occur after a heated argument. I think it has more to do with a lack of regard for human life, the availability of guns on the street, and the speed at which things escalate in Oakland.

Posted by: Brady at September 12, 2006 01:19 PM

Then what do you suppose it is about Oakland that makes it have more of "a lack of regard for human life" than, say, New York City, which has a per capita crime rate less than half that of Oakland's?

Posted by: llivermore at September 12, 2006 01:54 PM

It's probably just the geography. Maybe "New York City" has half the crime rate of Oakland, but I bet Brooklyn and Queens don't. You can't compare Oakland and SF to "NYC." You can only compare the entire Bay Area to NYC. You have to compare San Francisco to Manhattan and Bronx/Queens/Brooklyn to Oakland. Neighborhoods like East New York, and Bedford Stuyvesant, and Queensbridge are extremely dangerous and violent. It's the averaging in of wealthy neighborhoods with poor neighborhoods that makes NYC appear to have less crime. I bet that wherever in the whole country you find the crucial mix of poverty and insufficient policing, the murder rate stays relatively consistent.

The larger question Frank appears to be getting it is whether a liberal social culture, like the Bay Area's, which is inherently anti-cop, leads to more violent crime. It's the Guiliani question. I have to say that I think the answer is "yes."

Posted by: Tristin Aaron at September 12, 2006 02:50 PM

I'd have to respectfully disagree with you on one count and wholeheartedly agree with you on another. I don't think it's a matter of geography, for one thing because Oakland has rich neighborhoods, too (and would have a lot more if middle and upper middle class people weren't afraid to live there, but that's another issue), and for another, because New York, as you probably know, not so long ago had a crime rate as high or higher than Oakland's, and was dangerous even in many of the "best" neighborhoods. The variable, as you suggest, is Giuliani and tough policing, which has saved thousands of lives in New York and turned it into one of the safest and most desirable big cities in the world to live in. Bay Area cities, on the other hand, especially Frisco, Oakland and Berkeley, are, as you say, inherently anti-cop and, I want to say, almost pro-crime, as ludicrous as that may sound. Why? Because it fucks up the system, man, and illuminates the contradictions of capitalism.

Posted by: llivermore at September 12, 2006 05:09 PM

Now that you're making some serious book jack, it's time to leave the hood. I know real estate is expensive in Cali but paying out a ton for that beats you or your wife paying out for a funeral.

Posted by: zaphod at September 12, 2006 07:08 PM

Brady, I don't know how much time you have spent here recently, but police patrols have been visibly declining over the last couple of years. Temescal neighborhoods can look "nice," but they are dangerous and deserted, particularly at night. (Not only at night, though: the last time I was jumped - near Broadway and 41st - it was broad daylight, two in the afternoon.) As I said, I really cannot remember the last time I saw a cop in Temescal.

The fact that the Oakland PD spokesman felt it appropriate to mention a proposal to offer violent offenders a choice between prosecution and job training in the context of an interview about a woman who was actually set on fire is hardly reassuring and speaks volumes, I think.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at September 12, 2006 07:40 PM

Larry, I totally get what you are saying, but Brooklyn, as you know, I am sure, also has high-priced posh neighborhoods of white people, just like Oakland has its little "Berkeley Lite" zones. The murder rates in general, I am sure, reflect the balance of rich neighborhods with poor ones grouped into any given "city" or municipality. Probably murder and crime rates are more consistent in comparing like neighborhoods than cities. But as I said, I agree with everybody that it seems like policing is the other element. It's tough to endorse Guilianism when you have seen the faces of the people who were brutalized by the thug culture among the NYPD. But it's easy to appreciate him every night when I walk my dog and feel totally safe and comfortable.

I think it's great that Frank is addressing this issue, and since we all agree, we should obviously band together, start our own rogue police force, and attempt to direct all criminals to our commie enemies' HQ!!

Posted by: Tristin Laughter at September 13, 2006 01:31 AM

I'd contend that there are far more beneficiaries than "victims" of Giuliani's approach to policing, starting with the several thousand people who would be dead today had New York's murder rate continued at its astronomical pre-1990 rate. And most of those people would be minorities, as were a disproportionate number of murder victims in the bad old days.

It's not as easy to quantify the rewards reaped by people in general when they can live and work in neighborhoods without being in constant fear of being assaulted or robbed, but as someone who's lived in New York both pre and post-Giuliani, believe me, I can see the difference, and it's staggering. Many of what are now considered Brooklyn's "good" neighborhoods were practically no-go areas back then, as were large swathes of Manhattan, including much of the Lower East Side. I don't see that kind of improvement happening in Oakland; if anything, it's going in the opposite direction.

P.S. I've never been anywhere in Brooklyn, including East New York and Bed-Stuy, that felt more dangerous than some of Oakland's neighborhoods.

Posted by: llivermore at September 13, 2006 01:48 AM

To butt in here (as a former Berkeleyan, Oaklander, and victim of a mugging in Oakland -- very, VERY nice neighborhood on Mandana) -- hiring more police costs money. You know something that New York has that Oakland doesn't have? A city wage tax. And you know what Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, and the rest of California have that NYC doesn't have? Prop 13, which basically impoverishes local and state government.

You want more police? Raise your damn taxes.

And incidentally, it seems to me that if the "crazy lefty" attitude in Oakland is the explanation for the high murder rate, then why aren't SF and Berkeley experiencing similar spikes? Also, FWIW, Philly is having a similar spike of murders in 2006, and a Justice Dept report determined that, while crime overall was down in 2005, violent crime, especially involving guns, was up. Here's the URL:

So something is happening nationally, and it's obviously happening in Oakland, too. Not that this is some brilliant observation, but it's almost certainly a combination of national, statwide, regional, and local causes.

Posted by: Nick at September 13, 2006 05:25 AM

It's been about a year in a half since I was in that neighborhood on a regular basis, but in all fairness I was there only in the daylight hours. I felt safe, but then again I was near a school, only walking to my car, and in broad daylight. I did live in Oakland for 5 years (a few blocks away from Cato's Ale House), however, and decided to move when my wife and I started a family. I never got jumped, but witnessed some stuff that left a bad taste in my mouth.

The area where you got jumped last is a bit more dodgy than the area where Sandra Tellis was attacked, but I would have felt perfectly safe walking there, especially in daylight. It just goes to show you I know nothing. I'm curious though, when you say jumped do you mean attacked for no reason, or attacked with the intention of robbery?

As far as the offer the police have given to the top 100, you're right, it does speak volumes. It is pathetic and sends the wrong message. I also think is probably falling on deaf ears for the most part.

I don't know what the difference is with Oakland, but there is definitely a difference. As a teacher, I work with teens, and there is this attitude of indifference that is overwhelming. There is very little drive to succeed or even try. I believe this is an Oakland-related problem because whenever new students come in form other cities(SF included) or states the difference is day and night.

Posted by: Brady at September 13, 2006 02:35 PM

The NYC crime rate dropped in part because of more police on the streets, but also as the national crime rate dropped after crack ran its course. Crack was much less popular with the generation that had witnessed its effect on the previous generation. I think what we might be seeing here is a crystal meth becoming the new crack, and the violence is a result of the new gang members as well as some of the new addicts created. The Bay area where meth produced in Asia enters the US. It's not surprising that Oakland, is seeing a rise in violent crime.

Posted by: josh at September 13, 2006 07:46 PM

The "crime fell because the crack epidemic ended" is a popular mantra with Giuliani-haters who can't stand to see the man get any credit, but it doesn't account for the fact that crime fell far more drastically in New York City than it did in America as a whole, and especially when compared with the Bay Area. Also, who told you that crack had "run its course?" There may not be the spectacular gang wars of the 80s and early 90s, but crack is still present in abundance on the streets of any major city, including New York and London. I've worked with addicts in both cities, and they've never complained about the slightest difficulty in finding it. I think your theory about crystal meth may be a bit off, too. For one thing, meth is extremely popular in New York, too, and has been for many years. For another, it doesn't need to be smuggled in from Asia; it's produced in abundance in trailer-trash communities all over Northern California. Lastly, at the risk of stereotyping, crystal meth is far more popular among whites, whereas most of Oakland's murders and robberies occur among the African-American community.

There are many variables, of course, but I still think New York City and the Oakland-Frisco-Berkeley axis present us with the opportunity to study two very different approaches to controlling crime, and I also think the results speak for themselves.

Posted by: llivermore at September 13, 2006 09:11 PM

One thing that I would like to add to this discussion is that "the Guiliani approach" wasn't uniform, blanket police protection / "broken windows" policies for all neighborhoods. He cleaned up Manhattan, and the rich, white parts of Brooklyn; Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope. The rest of Brooklyn, Queens & the Bronx faced a situation with the "tougher NYPD" that looked a lot like cops yelling into a building and then going in shooting. That, and hauling people in and beating them up.

I'm all for more cops, and for more cops on the streets. But the NYPD culture under Guiliani was very problematic. The Louima rape, for example, reminds me of conditions at Abu Ghraib, where the institution's callousness and violence lends itself, in unsupervised situations, to torture. Amnesty International documented the NYPD's record of brutality in 1996 ( ) and their findings were that deaths in custody as well as police shootings rose substantially in 1993. The victims were, of course, disproportionately Black and Latino.

More police shouldn't have to mean more unauthorized violence from police, and I am sure it's possible to have the best of both worlds - more policing and some restraint from the police. Their mere presence, as shown in Bloomberg's "hot spots" policy, does deter crime. Thuggish behavior on their part should not the price cities pay for protection.

Maybe I sound like a bleeding heart liberal, and maybe in some ways I am one. My white hipster slash expat-Polish Brooklyn neighborhood had a "push in" rape some months ago, where a women was entering her lobby and two men forced their way in with her and assaulted her. Since then, there has been a highly visible police presence on my streets at night and it's been great. There hasn't been a single other violent crime, and they have been a great addition to the community. I know that I have Guiliani to thank for this. I just also can't forget the stories I read of some of the people who were shot, beaten and tortured by the NYPD, and the glib, dismissive attitude that "America's Mayor" showed during that time. I just think it should be part of the conversation.

Posted by: Tristin Aaron at September 14, 2006 05:18 PM

"San Francisco is not exactly Charm City, either..."

Well, neither is Baltimore, but it hasn't stopped it from adopting the moniker...;)

Posted by: JB at September 18, 2006 06:15 AM