Saturday, July 11, 2009

Oakland To Lay Off 200 Cops? Go Ahead, I Say

It sounds as if Oakland's plan to play brinkmanship with the Obama administration over laying off cops may be falling on deaf ears.

From the sound of things, the federal government's willingness to pay for local cops may top out at 50 officers, far short of the 140 Oakland would like to receive. Worse yet, receiving funding for 50 officers will not meet the minimum staffing requirement to collect Measure Y, so the city may well wind up short more like 200 officers.

Meanwhile, the Oakland police officers' union has not yet indicated a willingness to accept a renegotiation of the union's contract, which still has a year of life remaining. If the union decides to try and enforce the existing contract rather than negotiating, that could put the city even further in the hole.

The whole point of threatening to lay off 140 officers, of course, was to provide the city with as strong a case as possible for receiving stimulus funds to pay for more cops.

Too bad the federal government has received more than $8 billion in requests for about $1 billion in stimulus funding.

In my opinion, the reasonable initial respose to hearing this news is concern for the city. With such a dramatic decrease in police protection, we are bound to experience an upsurge in crime of all sorts.

Worse yet, if the city can no longer collect the money from Measure Y, we'll be losing one of our regressive parcel taxes, which I view as an important component in pushing the city toward gentrification.

But when I think about this state of affairs in more depth, it occurs to me that the coming crime-and-taxation wave may yield benefits to those of us who want to see Oakland become a more livable city.

I think it's pretty obvious how a decrease in police presence would harm law-abiding citizens living in the city's lower-income neighborhoods. But, I don't find such an impact too concerning, because they can simply pick up and move to an adjacent city with a lower crime rate -- that's certainly what I would do if faced with that situation.

The areas north and east of I-580 would not be affected at all. These areas, which I like to call the "gentrification zone," already have sufficiently low rates of crime that I doubt changes in policing would make much of a difference.

Part of my reasoning here is data which suggests that, for whatever reason, criminals tend to victimize those living very close to the criminals -- even if those living further away are far wealthier. This phenomenon helps explain Piedmont's low crime rate, for example.

The criminals themselves would obviously have a field day with reduced policing. But, I expect that field day would be short-lived. As they victimize more and more inner-city residents, those residents will leave, taking their income with them, and draining the criminals of their much-needed loot.

Several cities on the east coast have experienced just this situation -- inner cities becoming so "burned out" that even the criminals eventually leave. Depending on the geographical attractiveness of the area, redevelopment can then take place unburdened by the former residents.

In a place like Detroit, this is a disaster, since the decline of the auto industry leaves no fundamental reason for people to locate there. But in places like Brooklyn and Oakland, a nearby bustling metropolis presents a great opportunity for future gentrifiers.

So, I suspect a decrease in policing in Oakland would lead to a temporary bloodbath, followed by an upsurge in gentrification that we all hope to see improve our city's livability.

My only hope would be that, somehow, the city could continue to collect the Measure Y funds, even though the police staffing requirement could not be met. In doing so, the city would accomplish the trifecta of gentrification -- regressive taxation, rising crime and poised gentrifiers.

Thankfully, I feel confident that our crooked politicans are hard at work this very minute figuring out how to keep collecting that tax. They certainly won't give up that money without a fight.


  1. This certainly sounds great for the folks in the hills, but what about us gentrifiers who alreay populate the foothill neighborhoods below 580? What should we do? Several years ago we moved from Marin County and bought an 1885 Victorian to restore. We love our house, mistrust city hall and abhor the crime. While our area is hardly deep East Oakland, it is not Piedmont either and selling is out of the question since the value of our house has plummeted. All the issues you mention in your article are things we have been mulling over for some time now. Our answer is to buy another home a few counties away from Oakland in a lovely, bucolic setting. We are buying low because the house is in foreclosure and we will be fixing it up over the next couple years. However, lots of our neighbors are young couples and can't afford a 2nd home to flee to. What are they to do to protect themselves and their families? Renters can relocate to lower crime cities quite easily, but home owners in Oakland are not so lucky unless they can afford to lose tons of money. Unfortunatley, the "leaders" who run Oakland could care less. For me, moving to Oakland was the biggest mistake of my adult life, but a mistake I can recover from. For some of my neighbors it may be a mistake that actually puts their lives in danger. Glad you don't find our situation too concerning, but I can assure you that those of us in this situation are plenty concerned.

  2. I have long predicted that we may eventually be living in a Batman movie. Gentrification is good... various 'hoods in the cheaper parts of Oaktown have had thwarted attempts at such. The issue is critical mass... enough affluent middle class homeowners with the inclination. Criminals are renters... and are protected by rent control and eviction control (measure EE). I kind of like the idea of citizens vigilance committees. The only problem with guns is that the wrong people have too many of them and the right people don't have enough.

  3. Thanks for the advice, but already have the gun and shoot regulary. Also have an alarm system and a dog. However, even though we are risk takers financially we see what's coming for Oakland and plan to make a move North soon. We'll hold the property and wait for better times to sell, but I do have compassion for the young couples who took a gamble on Oakland and just can't sell or buy a 2nd home now, they are in for a rough ride. Too bad that city hall won't lift a finger to help them, they are too busy funding ID cards for illegals and turf dancing classes at Youth Uprising. What a travesty!

  4. Note to readers: I permitted the above comment because of the point being made, in spite of its use of inflammatory language. I do occasionally get comments that are just a bunch of cursing and racist rhetoric. I always delete those immediately.