Last week, I had the pleasure of serving as a panelist in the Safe Oakland Speaker Series organized by City Councilmember Libby Schaaf.
The Safe Oakland Speaker Series presents experts and scholars who provide thought provoking and informative research and analysis on the important issue of improving public safety.
At last week's event, renowned Stanford Law professor and economist John Donohue discussed his fascinating research on the success and failure of various laws and policies. This evening (May 8) Yale sociology professor Andrew Papachristos will share his analysis of Oakland's street gangs, the nature of interpersonal violence and Oakland's Ceasefire strategy. The discussion will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. at Holy Names University's Valley Center for the Performing Arts.
For more information, go to: http://www.safeoakland.com/events
I want to thank Councilmember Schaaf for organizing and moderating these enlightening discussions. I highly recommend them and urge you to join in the dialogue.
Supporting State Legislation to Address Oakland's Public Safety Crisis
At last week's Safe Oakland discussion, Professor Donohue presented data showing that Oakland's police force is dramatically understaffed compared to similar cities. He also discussed the very low rate of solving homicides in Oakland.
In the short term Professor Donohue believes increasing the number of police officers -- especially those units that investigate and solve violent crimes -- is a key part of the solution to Oakland's crime problem. He also recognized the importance of early childhood educational programs, the impact of poverty (nearly one in four children in America live in poverty) and other factors that must be addressed to improve public safety in the longer run.
Clearly, we need a comprehensive strategy, including federal and state assistance, to address this crisis, to address Oakland's public safety crisis. Stronger and more comprehensive regulation of firearms and ammunition at the federal and state levels is an important piece of this strategy, especially in light of the fact that 1.3 million Americans have been killed by guns since 1965 -- by comparison, a total of 617,000 Americans were killed in all the wars of the 20th century combined.
The City is supporting a number of state bills in the current legislative session designed to reduce gun violence, and my Office has joined City Councilmembers to support specific legislation that we believe will help Oakland.
Assembly Bill 180, sponsored by Assemblymember Rob Bonta, will give Oakland the power to pass stronger local laws to regulate licensing and registration of firearms. Assembly Bill 187, also by Bonta, will impose a tax on ammunition, with revenues to be used for public safety programs in high crime cities. And Senate Bill 299 would require gun owners to report stolen or lost firearms to law enforcement within 48 hours. Oakland's local law already makes it a crime to fail to report a lost or stolen gun. Professor Donohue reported that close to 1 million guns are stolen each year in the U.S. I believe a statewide requirement will help keep stolen guns from being used for violence in our community.
Protecting our Environment
To protect our environment and endangered species, City Council President Pat Kernighan and I also sponsored a resolution to support Assembly Bill 711, which will ban the use of lead bullets for hunting in California. This is not a public safety bill, but it is an important piece of environmental legislation that will protect the state's animals, natural resources, waterways and all Californians from lead poisoning.
Taking Action to Address Crime
Although the City Attorney's Office does not prosecute crimes (that's the purview of the District Attorney), we do take an aggressive approach to using civil law to address crime and neighborhood nuisances.
For example, my Office recently collected $60,000 in settlements in a lawsuit against a company that ripped off multiple Oakland families seeking legal residency in the U.S. The company, American Legal Services, claimed to be a law office, but none of its employees were actual lawyers. The company charged exorbitant fees, sometimes the life savings of the victims, and routinely botched immigration applications, in some cases resulting in deportation proceedings.
The company's storefronts closed after the Neighborhood Law Corps unit in my Office filed a lawsuit. The money we have collected to date will help repay the victims.
The Neighborhood Law Corps also worked to improve an East Oakland crime hot spot in recent months.
Over the years, the Walmart parking lot off of Hegenberger Road has been a hot spot for vehicle theft, robberies and vehicle break-ins. On average, that Walmart would receive roughly 30 calls for service per month regarding various crimes that occurred in its parking lot.
In order to abate this issue, the Neighborhood Law Corps worked with Walmart and developed a plan that includes upgraded security, increased video monitoring and greater security visibility. So far, the results we have seen are very positive. Calls for service regarding criminal activity dropped from roughly 30 calls per month to a total of five calls since the new security system was implemented about two months ago. The improved security at Walmart is an example of my approach to working with businesses to abate nuisances and crime in the city whenever possible without resorting to costly and time-consuming litigation.
Last week, I was honored to receive the Susan B. Anthony Woman of the Year award from the National Women's Political Caucus Alameda North chapter.
I was deeply touched to receive an award bearing the name of Susan B. Anthony, and to be associated with this courageous crusader and champion for the right of women to vote. The NWPC has been at the forefront of the fight for equality, and it has advocated tirelessly for the very values and goals that have guided me throughout my life.
Thank you to the NWPC, and to everybody who attended the award dinner on April 28 to support this vital organization.
As always, I look forward to your comments, thoughts and questions about how we are conducting the City's business.
Very truly yours,
Barbara J. Parker
Oakland City Attorney