Critics relentlessly skewered Ron Dellums throughout his mayoral tenure for being detached from his job. Some of those criticisms were legitimate. But when historians look back at the ex-Congressman’s four years as mayor of Oakland, they may not be so harsh, particularly when examining violent crime in Oakland. That’s because there’s no denying the fact that homicides and other violent crimes dropped significantly on Dellums’ watch.
Through November 28, homicides were down in Oakland by 19 percent year-to-date compared to 2009. There were 77 homicides through November 28, compared to 95 over the same time period last year, according to police department statistics. Homicides also have plummeted 31 percent since Dellums’ first year in office. In 2007, there were 111 homicides through the end of November of that year.
If this month is much like the rest of 2010, then homicides are on track to have dropped by a staggering 42 percent since Jerry Brown’s last year as mayor in 2006. That year, Oakland endured 145 killings. This year, Oakland was on pace to finish with 84. If someone had told you four years ago that homicides would decline by more than 40 percent and some would consider Dellums’ term a failure, you probably would have thought that person was crazy.
The drops in other violent crimes are no less striking. Rapes have declined about 15 percent so far this year, and since 2007, they’re down by 23 percent. That’s 45 fewer women being raped each year in Oakland since Dellums took office. Similarly, aggravated assaults have dropped by 18 percent. And robberies, including armed robberies and carjackings, are down by 13 percent since 2007. Overall, violent crimes have declined by 16 percent since Dellums’ first year.
But that’s not all. Serious crimes have plummeted by 35 percent since 2007. Crime, in fact, is down nearly across the board. Out of 27 crime categories, the only two exceptions were residential burglaries and robberies, which rose 31 percent and 38 percent, respectively, from 2007. “We got it done,” Dellums said in an interview last week when asked to assess crime during his administration.
So why hasn’t Dellums received more credit? After all, mayors are blamed when crime goes up. Why shouldn’t they get kudos, when crime goes down? Dellums said he believes he could have done a better job informing Oaklanders about the positive crime trends. Part of him appears to regret not doing what he calls “chest-thumping.”
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint what causes crime to go up or down, Dellums believes Oakland’s success is due to several factors. Among them was the police department’s decision to return to area command a few years ago. The department divided the city into three geographical areas so that officers and commanders would have more accountability and would become more familiar with specific neighborhoods and residents. The idea came from a white paper that Brown commissioned at the end of his tenure. “For the first time in many years, officers were deployed into districts and communities instead of on a city-wide level,” Dellums noted.
Dellums also credits a legal ruling that the city won against the Oakland cops’ union, restoring management rights to the police department. And, finally, he believes that increasing the number of cops in 2008 to more than eight hundred helped bring down crime — as did the full implementation of community policing under Measure Y.
All of those moves might help explain the drops in crime in 2008 and 2009. But what about 2010? This year, the number of cops has fallen below seven hundred because of attrition and the decision by the city council in July to lay off eighty officers. Yet crime is still going down. It’s declined at a more rapid pace in 2010 than the previous two years.
Dellums credits this year’s strong numbers to Police Chief Anthony Batts, whom the mayor hired in 2009. Dellums also said that receiving one of the largest grants for policing from the federal stimulus package — more than $60 million over three years — allowed the city to stave off even more cuts to the department. Dellums also noted that the department has leveraged its relationships with state and federal agencies to bring more law enforcement to Oakland.
And, finally, the mayor believes violence prevention programs funded by Measure Y have helped lower crime, and he thinks his decision to focus on prisoner-reentry services, which include counseling and job training programs for ex-cons, made a difference. “I came to the conclusion that if we relegate these people to the shadows of the economy, we were never going to bring down crime in this city,” he said.
Chief Batts was not available for comment for this story, but Assistant Chief Howard Jordan said in an interview that he believes that Batts’ decision to focus on gathering and analyzing detailed criminal intelligence data has been pivotal in lowering crime this year, as were several major investigations and a series of big drug busts earlier this year. “That had an impact on getting a lot of the bad guys off the streets,” he said.
As for Dellums, Jordan praised the mayor for impacting crime in Oakland, noting his decision to hire Batts and his ability to take advantage of his numerous connections in Washington, DC. “The biggest role that he has played was getting the resources we needed,” Jordan said.
But will the downward crime trend continue if the department loses even more officers? Mayor-elect Jean Quan has said that she wants to hire additional cops, but she and the city council remain at odds with the police union because it still doesn’t want to pay into its retirement plan. Dellums said the council had “no option” but to lay off officers when the union refused to make pension contributions. But he said the new administration needs to get back to the bargaining table as soon as possible.
So what is the magic number? How many officers can Oakland lose before crime begins to go back up? “Getting to eight hundred obviously played a role” in lowering crime, Dellums said. “At what point does it unravel? If you get down to six hundred police officers? I can’t tell you the exact number, but based on history, if it does continue to go down it will unravel.”
Dellums and the A’s
If the A’s ultimately remain in Oakland and play at a new ballpark in Jack London Square, Dellums will deserve some credit for that, too. Indeed, even if Major League Baseball decides to okay the A’s’ move to San Jose, there’s no doubt that Dellums worked much harder at trying to keep the A’s than did Brown, his predecessor, who took almost no interest in retaining the team.
In 2006, Brown was basically prepared to let the Oakland A’s move to Fremont. “When we started, the A’s were outta here,” Dellums noted. But then when the Fremont deal unraveled two years later, Dellums quickly tried to stop the A’s from going to San Jose. He and council President Jane Brunner fired off a letter to baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, imploring him to give Oakland another chance. And Selig responded by impaneling a blue ribbon commission to study the issue. “That started the whole thing rolling,” said Doug Boxer, president of the Oakland Planning Commission and co-leader of the local booster group, Let’s Go Oakland.
Dellums then instructed City Administrator Dan Lindheim and city staffers to work with Boxer’s group to find new spots for a ballpark, and they came up with two in Jack London Square. Over the next two years, the mayor chaired meetings with the league’s blue-ribbon commission, outlining Oakland’s plan and working with the league as it selected the so-called Victory Court ballpark site and combed through the city’s finances. Boxer called the mayor “a guiding force and presence” in the negotiations. He also said the blue-ribbon commission was impressed with Dellums’ passion for keeping the A’s. “I have no doubt that his leadership helped,” Boxer said.
So why hasn’t Dellums gotten credit for this, too? Again, Dellums didn’t tell Oaklanders what he was doing. But this time, it wasn’t negligence on his part. He had promised the league he would keep their discussions under wraps. “What was more important — chest thumping or winning the day?” he asked. “We thought winning the day was more important.”