If you were to judge Oakland by the news coverage of the past week, the East Bay’s largest city would appear to be spinning out of control. Eighty police officers were laid off after the Oakland Police Officer’s Association rejected a city council proposal to pay nine percent of their salaries into the pension. On Saturday, Oakland and BART police officers shot dead a knife-wielding man in the Fruitvale District. That night, a heavily-armed parolee from Tuolomne County apparently went postal on California Highway Patrol officers near the Harrison exit of I-580, engaging in a gun battle where over 150 shots were fired. To boot, on Sunday evening a rooftop sniper fired at an Oakland cop conducting a traffic stop on West 8th Street, and a prospective Google employee was murdered Downtown in a robbery gone bad.
But believe it or not, crime is actually down in Oakland. According to OPD’s most recent weekly crime statistics, major crimes have dropped 18 percent from 2009. There have been 48 murders this year in Oakland, compared to 62 at this point last year, a 15 percent drop. Aggravated assaults have dropped by 11 percent, rapes by 24 percent, robberies by twelve percent.
Television and print media have responded to this past week’s string of incidents with a barrage of sensational coverage. KTVU’s evening news dubbed the incidents a “wave of violence,” and a poll on their website indicates almost 90 percent of viewers believe Oakland is getting more violent. The San Francisco Chronicle’s columnist Chip Johnson claims Oakland residents are “beaten down” and “resigned” to living with a high crime rate.
So is the mainstream press onto something, or are they creating a crime wave out of a string of spectacular but isolated incidents? It remains to be seen whether Oakland’s decrease in crime is for real, a product of less officers taking fewer crime reports, or a statistical anomaly.