Oakland residents organize to fight crime

Aug 28, 2013

Just a few weeks ago, 12 people were shot and three killed within a 24-hour period  in Oakland. It’s a snapshot of a difficult reality that some residents are facing there - which includes robberies being up 30 percent from this time last year. Even in traditionally safer neighborhoods like Rockridge, residents are scared to go out at night.

These citizens had a chance to meet their new police captain to address their concerns recently in a community meeting. More than 40 residents and business owners are informally chatting with their area captain, Anthony Toribio.

They’re here to discuss the latest spate of robberies to hit Rockridge. They exchange ideas and offer advice on past practices to protect themselves. One person brings up community building and suggest a monthly soup night. 

“Soup night seems a lot more fun than having a gun waved at your face,” says Brian Pelletier, who was robbed at gunpoint a few weeks back. The group laughs in irony.

Captain Toribio says he’s available for talks like these thanks to a restructuring of the department. It went from two districts to five, with a captain for each area.

“The benefit to the community is that you have a captain that has a smaller, more manageable area and now has more time and more responsibility to address quality of life issues and operational things,” he says.

Toribio shares some patterns he’s been seeing in local muggings - how the perpetrators have become more brazen.

“The other trend I’ve seen is when an individual resists, that suspect is more likely than not to use force on that individual,” he says. “We’ve had pistol whippings, a couple of instances where shots have been fired.”

He offers advice on how they can avoid becoming victims.

“If you’re driving home, honk your horn when you’re pulling into your driveway,” says Toribio. “We talked about neighborhoods turning their front porch lights on and keeping them on.”

Pelletier’s wife, Candace Jantzen-Marson is glad Toribio and the residents are here. But she says his explanations don’t ease her concerns. 

“Brian and I were robbed last week,” she says. “And having three armed robberies in the same block in one week is totally terrifying. We’re telling our friends not to be out in Rockridge at night. It’s great you’re here but nothing you’re saying is making me feel safer about being on the streets and feel safer.”

Toribio acknowledges her plight. But he doesn’t have a good solution either.

“I’m doing as much as I can,” Toribio says. “I’m open to hearing ideas. What as a community can you do?”

A veteran community policing activist chimes in to remind everyone that they have an important role to play in keeping their neighborhood safe.

“Part of it is the police, and the other part is the community,” she says. “The community needs to be overtly involved.”

The residents ask more questions, then start brainstorming ways to get organized. One person suggests pooling some money between the attendees to flyer the area. Toribio helps to consolidate the ideas and offer city help.

“I can get a [Neighborhood Service Coordinator] and problem solving officer to contribute, but we need some volunteers to take charge and get it together,” he says.

One woman steps up and offers to organize everyone. 

While it won’t get every resident involved, if it doubles the number of people paying attention, that’s so much more than what we have now,” she says. “That’s worth it. Because the systems exists. What’s missing is the people plugged into it. So If we had that kind of approach and rely on the tools we have now. We might make a lot of progress.”

OPD Captain Anthony Toribio starts off a sign-up sheet, and by the time the meeting ends, about 15 people are on the list.  The residents and captain agree to work together on reviving a neighborhood watch group. It’s the main action item for their next meeting, and everyone seems motivated to do their part.

Toribio thanks people for coming out and offers some hope for the future.

“I’m sorry crime is so bad it’s negatively impacting your life,” he says. “It bothers me. Hopefully this is a good start of things we can implement and make our neighborhood safer.”

These community meetings are part of the new effort of Oakland Police to engage with residents over what’s going on in their neighborhoods.

For residents, they may not get a speedy response from the police, but a chance to be heard and build relationships is a start.