At the June 20th joint Rockridge Community Planning Council/Greater Rockridge Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council meeting, Mayor Jean Quan was asked how many police she thought Oakland needs.
First, she said that it is not a matter of what we need, but what we can afford, given that California policemen cost more than East Coast policemen, and she quoted that CA officers cost $200,000 per officer vs $100,000 on the East Coast. She then stated that her goal was to return Oakland to 800 officers that we had “before the recession.” Although the current budget only gets us to 700, she said she is confident that as the economy continues to improve Oakland will be able to afford more police in the long term.
Several experts on crime & policing have visited Oakland and given talks about Oakland’s crime, and when asked the question of how many officers are needed, they answer with numbers that are much higher than the Mayor’s goal, from the 1200 officers that Justin McCray (UC Berkeley professor, author “The Effect of Police on Crime: New Evidence from US Cities, 1960-2010”) estimated to the 1000 that Frank Zimring (author, “The City That Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control”) and LAPD Special Assistant for Constitutional Policing Gerald Chaleff independently projected.
But more alarming than Mayor Quan’s low number of police we might hope for was her next statement: “I know others have said that we need more, but really as the economy rises the crime rate will fall and we will not need so many police” she said, and then stated: “We need more now because the crime rate is high, but once people have jobs, then the crime rate will naturally fall.”
The belief that high unemployment causes crime is understandable; it derives from the premise that people would really rather work but commit crimes to feed their families or out of other necessity. This belief, however, is not based in science. Chapter 3 of Zimring’s book “The Effect of Police on Crime” does a detailed statistical analysis of economic indicators vs crime rates, and finds no correlation. In fact, most empirical studies of this issue have found either a weak correlation or no correlation between crime and unemployment. Nationally, crime has actually gone down in three of the past four recessions to occur since 1980.
Conversely, most recent scientific studies of this issue have shown that the most reliable indicator of how much crime you will have is how many police you have, and how they are deployed. As Justin McCrary said in his lecture at the Safe Oakland speaker series (sponsored by Oakland City Councilmember Libby Schaaf and Holy Names University), what appears to happen is that if potential crooks see a police presence, they are discouraged from committing a crime; if they know they will be caught (what is called “swift and sure justice”) they will commit fewer crimes. McCrary went on to say that the number of arrests go down as the number of police go up, because people don’t take the chance to do the crime.
LAPD Special Assistant for Constitutional Policing Gerald Chaleff spoke at another of the Safe Oakland lectures, and stated that every California city that laid off police during the recession experienced a 7% to 8% rise in crime rate for each officer who was laid off. He said that Los Angeles did not experience a rise in their crime rate in the same period because they had no lay-offs. He concluded it was not the recession that caused the crime rates to rise in the cities where it did: it was the fact that they were under-policed.
Make Oakland Better Now! advocates that we have 900 police; we would advise the city leaders to listen to science and to adopt at least that goal.