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    Grand Avenue Theft Auto

    HeidiNothing makes me feel my middle age more than when my Action Adventure car comes back from one of its zany Oakland escapades.

    Dateline: Oakland, Monday, September 23. Nine commuters are robbed at gunpoint in a casual carpool line in the Rockridge neighborhood. Ten hours later, in another Oakland casual carpool lot five miles away, I step off the bus I take from my job in San Francisco and begin to circle the small patch of asphalt near Farmer Joe’s that is the Dimond District Park & Ride Lot. After three or four circuits, I cuss out the concrete parking stop reclining in the empty stall where I’d left my Honda and dial 911.

    This was the second time my car had been stolen and – added to 6 house break-ins and a car window smashed – the ninth time I’d been burglarized within Oakland city limits in the past couple years. So, there was a lot I already knew, such as it was fairly likely, though not guaranteed, that I’d get my car back in some condition within a couple weeks, that my insurance would cover the rental car, that my coin purse with parking quarters was a goner, and it was likely I’d be standing under the highway for another hour, waiting for an officer to confirm my parking stall was empty… if they sent one at all.

    What I didn’t know was that Park & Ride lots fall under California Highway Patrol (CHP), rather than Oakland Police Department (OPD), jurisdiction, so when I dialed 911, CHP picked up. What a difference a jurisdiction makes! A human being rather than a recording in 14 different languages answered. And once the dispatcher confirmed I was in the Park & Ride lot, a CHP officer was taking my report within 20 minutes.

    Two hours later, I got a call that they’d found my car. I couldn’t claim it yet, because it was being used as bait at a stakeout, but I could pick it up at Pito’s Tow the next morning. When I picked it up, the ignition lock was broken and a case of cat food and 3 camper chairs were gone. The #1 radio stop had been changed from KQED to a hiphop R&B station, but in the plus column, they’d left my marching uniform, half a can of grape Shasta and a new screw driver, so all in all, not a completely unsatisfactory outcome.

    My Harvard-educated, statistics-teaching partner will be the first to complain that my evidence about the state of crime in Oakland and the relative effectiveness of the two law enforcement agencies is anecdotal. Yet, unlike Mayor Jean Quan, who claimed in an interview with Bay City News in June that Oakland crime “is beginning to level off a little bit,” at least I have some actual evidence.

    What statistics tell us is that crime is continuing to rise in Oakland. According to an article on SFgate about the Rockridge robbery, the city recorded 3,856 robberies through September 23, up 24% from the same period in 2012. Despite a renewed emphasis on rebuilding the department, OPD is barely holding its own. In March, the 166th Oakland Police Academy (the first Oakland police training academy since 2008) brought in 38 new officers, increasing the force from 611 to 649. Last week, the 167th academy graduated 36 officers, increasing the force from 611 to 647. According to a KRON-TV piece, U.S. Department of Justice statistics show a U.S. average of 40 officers per 10,000 residents. With the 36 new officers, OPD has 16 officers per 10,000, not even half the national average.

    To be clear, this is not a criticism of the individuals serving in the OPD. I’m returning to the anecdotal now, but every officer responding to a break-in has been sympathetic, offered useful advice and often mentioned some detail that hints at how Herculean their jobs have become – like the officer who told me it was best to call at the first sign of a problem because he was the only cop in a beat extending from my neighborhood above Mills College down to the Fruitvale BART station. Or the officer who was kicking himself because he’d trailed a suspicious car for an hour before they lost him and broke into my house. By the time I got home, he’d leaped over my 6’ fence to track their get-away in the grasses behind my yard. From what I’ve seen, these people are doing everything they can, but slashed staffing levels are effectively tying one hand behind their backs.

    Last week, Mayor Quan told the 167th Academy graduates that Oakland residents want officers to smile more. Call my thoughts anecdotal, but what I want is a sufficiently supported police department to stop the unending series of crises here. That’d give us all something to smile about.

    “Bay Times” columnist Heidi Beeler is a long-time Oakland resident. She has been a member of the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band since 1991.