Making headlines around the country, California’s iconic In-N-Out recently announced closure of its Oakland California location due to high levels of crime in Oakland’s “crime triangle.” This marks the first ever closure of an In-N-Out location in the company’s 75-year history, which is being celebrated this year.
But In-N-Out isn’t the only business to call it quits. Denny’s is closing its almost 60 year-old location. Starbucks is gone. Cain’s has closed its lobby, but is keeping its drive through open and employees now park inside a newly installed compound. Oakland’s much loved “First Fridays” have been canceled for the first time in ten years. Dozens of Oakland small independent restaurants have closed. Clorox and Kaiser Permanente have advised employees in their downtown headquarters to remain inside their buildings and have food delivered.
It should be no surprise that Oakland and high crime are synonymous. The long-suffering people of Oakland are amongst the most victimized in America.
I’ve reported before that one of the toughest jobs in Oakland is the one held by Nicole Freeman, whose role is to tally the deaths and victimizations of its residents. Her 2023 final report shows that overall felony crimes are up 17 percent over their 2022 level which were in turn up 19.8 percent over 2021. In all there were 46,850 felony crimes reported. Amongst those were 120 murders, 509 assaults with firearms (which but for the lifesaving efforts of Oakland’s trauma centers could have been murders), 367 drive-by shootings of homes and cars (more potential murders), 3,687 armed robberies, 666 car-jackings, and 183 rapes.
Amongst the 120 murder victims was Oakland PD Officer Tuan Le, who was shot and killed while responding to a crime in progress on Dec 29th. Two weeks before that on December 11, 7-11 Security Officer James Johnson was also gunned down.
Back in July, 2023 the Oakland chapter of the NAACP issued a statement on the city’s crime epidemic that said in part:
Oakland residents are sick and tired of our intolerable public safety crisis that overwhelmingly impacts minority communities. Murders, shootings, violent armed robberies, home invasions, car break-ins, sideshows, and highway shootouts have become a pervasive fixture of life in Oakland. We call on all elected leaders to unite and declare a state of emergency and bring together massive resources to address our public safety crisis.
As I wrote in August of 2023, their statement comes on the heels of Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price’s April 2023 office directive to no longer charge firearm or gang enhancements except in exceptional circumstances, and not without supervisorial approval, and to never charge a “life without parole” or LWOP under any circumstances.
That directive, in combination with California’s judicial interpretation of Prop 57, means that without firearms or gang enhancements, suspects convicted of murder will potentially serve only 66 percent of a 25-to-life sentence, or just 16.5 years.
What exactly is an “exceptional” circumstance is not defined in the directive and one would imagine will be the subject of some debate within the office – or maybe it won’t.
Today, Pamela Price and Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao are facing recalls. Oakland PD has been without a chief of police for a year – but chiefs of police in Oakland have a short shelf life of an average of 18 months over the last 20 years. The Oakland 911 call center is the worst in California in terms of answering calls for service within the state mandated time limits. Oakland recently squandered an opportunity to receive millions in Organized Retail Crime (ORC) enforcement grant funding because they missed the deadline to apply for funding.
Oakland PD is understaffed – but Mayor Thao fixed that by simply reducing the number of budgeted OPD officer positions to match current numbers – et voila! Problem solved.
To get Governor Newsom’s attention, apparently you need to close a hamburger stand.
In the face of that news, Governor Newsom swung into action with the planned deployment of 120 California Highway Patrol Officers to the area. Attorney General Rob Bonta sent a team of additional prosecutors to assist Alameda County DA Pamela Price’s office with the additional workload. The Governor fails to mention how this will occur as the CHP is short staffed by nearly 1000 officers.
When will the CHP officers arrive? According to a source at the CHP, as of February 9th, they were still waiting for what is known as a “Comm-net” message advising of the reassignments. But then, Oakland’s residents are used to waiting – waiting for 911 calls that are never answered and officers who never come and a Governor who doesn’t hear them.
What they don’t have to wait for is another day of murders and robberies.
Steve Smith is a senior fellow in urban studies at the Pacific Research Institute.