East Oakland moms ask police for help

Oakland schools have a reputation for being dangerous. But for some families, they’re an oasis of security in an otherwise frightening and unpredictable world.

Walking to school in Oakland. Tribune file photo by Laura A. Oda.A group of East Oakland mothers told Oakland Police Capt. Ersie Joyner this morning that they live in perpetual fear — that they rarely feel safe, even in their own homes. That walking their children to and from school, past groups of young men flying gang colors, can be terrifying.

“I am tired of feeling like a hostage in my own house, in my own neighborhood, in my own city,” said Maria Soto, whose two children attend Greenleaf Elementary, a new school on the Whittier campus.

An incident this fall stoked parents’ worst fears: 6-year-old Leslie Ramirez, a Greenleaf first-grader, was wounded in the middle of the night by a stray bullet fired from outside of her house.

Leslie survived the shooting and is back at school. But Soto says she still worries every night whether her kids will be safe in the morning.

Oakland Community Organizations organized today’s bilingual meeting at Greenleaf. The mothers who led the event said they wanted to work with the police to make their neighborhood safer. But they also told Joyner that witnesses and crime victims sometimes feel they’re being treated as suspects, a dynamic that compounds their anxieties and discourages people from making police reports in the first place.

Joyner, the Area 3 commander who replaced Capt. Paul Figueroa, said he grew up in East Oakland with a dim view of law enforcement. He said he welcomed feedback about their interactions with his officers, and he promised to hold them accountable.

One mother asked Joyner if community leaders could take the beat cops around the neighborhood one day on foot. It would help to build trust between the officers and the residents, she said.

But Joyner said it wouldn’t be possible. Emma Paulino, an OCO organizer, later clarified that it would be for just one day.

“It’s not going to happen. I don’t have the staff to do it,” Joyner said. ” … It’s virtually impossible for me to set a time.”

I found that response a bit puzzling. How hard would it be for the department to allow a pair of officers to spend one afternoon shaking hands with the people who live in the neighborhood they cover — people who could prove to be allies in one of the most crime-ridden beats in the city?

I know the department laid off 80 officers this summer, but it managed to send an army of officers (though many were from other Bay Area agencies) to downtown Oakland in the wake of the Johannes Mehserle verdict.

Paulino said she hasn’t given up on the idea. The meeting, she said, was just the first step.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • TheSkylineSenior

    It’s the sad reality that we face. There’s simply not enough officers on duty for a city of this size after you consider that we only have 686 or so sworn officers that are split into three areas under 3 different shifts, each 12 hours long and further subtract the number of officers working at a desk, on break or ill/vacation.

    It would probably be a better idea if they contacted the OUSD School Police instead to request their presence. Another thing they can do is to contact the department to see if they can volunteer so sworn officers can be sent elsewhere.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Yeah, it’s bull. Some officers gather in out of the way places all over Oakland during shifts to avoid having to interact with the rabble except during siren scenarios.

    Good job, Katy, challenging the response. It is so rare for the stable folks in a rough neighborhood to organize and ask for that kind of support and to be brushed off like that is outrageous.

    Forget beat cops, the much-hyped Capt. Batts should be down there himself this afternoon, and happy to do it.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Oh, and just imagine the response to a parallel request from shop-owners in Montclair or homeowners who live across from Skyline….

  • Katy Murphy

    I neglected to mention in my blog post that Pete Sarna, the chief of the school district’s police force, came to the meeting. Sarna — who has since reminded me of the omission — told the group yesterday that he was committed to keeping school perimeters safe during school hours. There are about 17 officers in the department right now.

    Sarna also said he was working to set up a system to allow people to make anonymous reports via text message. I’ll let you know when that comes out. In the meantime, the non-emergency number for Oakland schools police (note: not OPD) is (510) 874-7777. Email: police@ousd.k12.ca.us.

  • Nextset


    One definition of crazy is people doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

    When I write about failure factory public schools I take the position that they are carefully doing what they intend to: produce failing students. People don’t like to hear it. It is what it is.

    In the case of the ghettos people somehow just can’t wrap their minds around the fact that the ghettos are doing exactly as they are intended to. They expect things to magically change – because somebody thinks it should change. It is what it is.

    The ghettos are supposed to be crime ridden slums, because that’s what the residents are there for. If they didn’t want a crime ridden slum they wouldn’t be living in one. They do so because it suits them, and the alternatives are perceived as too much trouble.

    Or as I have asked a witness “why were you there?” They sputter 5 or 6 different answers but it all comes down to “I wanted to be there”.

    It’s very easy to move. You put one foot in front of the other.

  • livegreen

    CrankyT says: “Some officers gather in out of the way places all over Oakland during shifts to avoid having to interact with the rabble except during siren scenarios.”

    Well, now I know why you call yourself Cranky. Just off the cuff write a statement without providing any substantiation and then don’t apply it to just one or two Officers, but then broaden it to “all over Oakland”.

    So since this is happening all over Oakland, please provide #’s to substantiate your alarming claim?

  • Nextset

    Livegreen: Pay attention to Cranky, he’s onto something.

    Police services are de-policing the ghetto. They are shifting into a us-vs-them relationship with the public. It is there, I can feel it. It is predictable, and it is going to get much worse. Fire and Emergency room services are going the same way.

    What you may not understand, is that the entire city of Oakland is Ghetto. The remaining “middle-class” in the city thinks they are still getting police services. They are not. Police services are being steadily withdrawn. And it’s not as if you couldn’t read the webpage either. What part of “we do not respond to…” that long list of crimes – did you no understand?

    As CA and it’s principal cities become so insolvent they cannot make payroll any longer you are going to see an inexorable cutoff of services. And it’s a death spiral because your (remaining) tax base is going to flee. Watch the stores and restaurants close and take your sales tax base with them.

    And as the civil servants are hit with pay cuts, benefit cuts, and anti-worker policies, combined with ghetto lottery lawsuits and now in the case of the BART Officer, criminal cases, they will stay on the jobs (hoping for a retirement that will default) but emotionally disconnect from the People of Oakland. At some point the City will actually be allowed to burn (remember Los Angeles and the Rodney King Riots where the police allowed the mobs to loot with impunity?)

    This is what is coming for Oakland. And I don’t see anything realistically available to stop it. And it is happening right in front of Cranky’s eyes and everyone elses, if they will open their eyes and see.

    Brave New World.

  • livegreen

    Nextset, Under-policing (which I think you’re referring to in your ramble) is not the same as the Officers don’t care and “gather in out of the way places all over Oakland”.

    In fact, its just the opposite. Officers have been reassigned from PSO’s (neighborhood officers) to Patrol just to keep driving around to keep up with the calls. And it’s because they’re just trying to keep up that they don’t have time to form relationships. Not because they’re having to “gather in out of the way places”.

    “I can feel it” doesn’t cut evidence any more than knowing Putin’s a good man because the President’s gut tells him it is. I agree we need more Officers, but that’s not what Cranky Teacher said. She took Capt. Joyner to task for not having enough men.

    Well, that’s the truth & it’s not his fault. That’s a combination of the economy, the budget, & the priorities of the City Council.

    If you and Cranky think Capt. Joyner doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on out there then you ignored what Katy reported he said about growing up here. & He knows OUSD too.

    PS. Cranky’s comments don’t refer in any way to this being related to the shortage of Officers. Cranky just refers to a vague generality…”Officers”.

  • livegreen

    Nextset, Also, both for accuracy and to know what you’re quoting, I’d like you to finish the quote you started (“we do not respond to…”) with the rest of the actual quote and a source, rather than inserting your own words. They’re not necessarily the same…

  • susan


    You are begining to lose your reporters perspective and edge (one negative side to blogging).

    UnBiased reproting is a dying art!

  • Katy Murphy

    Interesting observation. In general, I do my best to keep my `reporter’s perspective’ intact when I blog, though I suppose it’s a fine line. Thanks for keeping me honest!

  • cranky teacher

    You’re right Livegreen, it was a rather broad accusation and I did not mean to tarnish all cops. Let me clarify:

    Community policing in Oakland has never been systematically implemented in Oakland despite it being on the drawing board for decades. Furthermore, what limited the resources the OPD has are focused primarily on the protection of property in the better neighborhoods. Without a systematic community policing program — and interacting with citizens in the manner requested here is a key to such a program — officers have no motivation other than personal goodwill to put themselves out into direct contact with neighborhoods in non-emergency situations.

    The cop’s response in this situation was short-sighted at best, politically motivated at worst (since we are being pounded with the idea that we don’t have enough cops).

    More officers and money would be a prerequisite to better policing but not a guarantee, at all. In fact, nationwide there is an interesting debate happening about policing in that statistics don’t bear out the default idea that more cops equal less crime. In fact, the connection seems not to exist.

    Just saw an interesting documentary segment about the role of policing leading up to the Watts “Riots”/”Rebellion”. Think the full movie was called “Crips and Bloods: Made in America.”

  • http://www.tigerthegecko.blogspot.com maestra

    When I was teaching in East Oakland, we had an attempted kidnapping (mentally ill homeless person walked on campus and tried to take a 5th grader) A teacher called OPD emergency (not 911) and reported it. 50 minutes later, the cops showed up. Thankfully, the kid had wiggled out of his jacket that the guy had ahold of and was OK. But 50 minutes? The Eastmont mall police station was a few blocks away. One of the kids said to me “If we was white kids, they wouldn’t have waited so long.” I wanted to tell her that wasn’t true but I think it was.

  • livegreen

    Cranky, On what experience of Community Policing do you base your statement that “OPD has focused primarily on the protection of property in the better neighborhoods”?

    Re. “without systematic community policing”: well we DID have this until very recently. That was the whole point of both NCPC’s, NSC’s & PSO’s. So are you saying when we had those they weren’t community policing? Or are you saying now that the PSO’s have been removed we don’t have community policing?

    If the former, why are those 3 community policing efforts not “systematic community policing”?

  • livegreen

    BTW, re.OPD-OUSD, the OUSD Strategic Plan proposes a new map dividing Oakland schools into 3 new Regions. These are changed from the previous Zones/Regions. OUSD is saying it’s to align with existing Neighborhood & Police Regions/Beats.

    Except that’s not true: the OLD zones/regions are aligned with OPD Regions/Beats. The newly proposed OUSD Regions & Map is NOT.

  • Oaklander

    Katy – I disagree with Susan. This is great reporting! You are a human and you are showing the need for humanity to prevail over violence in our communities.

    Great work OCO. Let’s keep up the fight against violence and the desensitization that it causes.

  • Chauncey

    OCO is perpuating problems as do most lberal leaners in the Bay Area ! Glorified racial and problem pimping.

    This state is going to pay due to the Pelosi slants!
    God help us., but things are falling apart on the West side!

  • livegreen

    I think OCO has some good intentions & often does good work, it just doesn’t mean an African American Officer born & raised in Oakland is wrong or biased or uncaring when he says he’s too short on Officers.

    BTW, when OCO participates in writing a new map for the OUSD Strategic Plan they should watch out for their own biases. Namely when they lobby the district to draw the map in a way that benefits their own members. With the Superintendent.
    Behind closed doors…