At a press conference outside the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Courthouse this afternoon, Federal and local officials announced that $71 million in U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants have been awarded to two dozen California law enforcement agencies. $10.7 million of that money will go to Oakland, making the city the recipient of the second largest-COPS grant in the state and paving the way for the short-staffed department to hire 25 officers in the coming months.
Since it was created in 1995, the COPS program has given more than $13 billion to roughly 13,000 local agencies with the goal of furthering community policing programs and retaining law enforcement jobs. In 2009, Oakland received $19.7 million to pay for 41 officers. However, the reduced funding to Oakland is part of an overall reduction in the COPS program without the stimulus funding from 2009: That year, $1 billion in COPS grants were disbursed across the country, compared to $240 million this year (funds came from normal federal appropriations). According to COPS Director Bernard Melekian, 91 percent of all applicants were rejected.
Oakland also found money to rehire 32 laid-off officers last month. Hamstrung by a citywide budget deficit, the Oakland Police Department has not been able to fund a full academy to train new officers for almost two years. Currently, OPD has 650 officers on its roster and loses at least three officers every month to retirement or transfers.
Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts and Mayor Jean Quan joined Congresswoman Barbara Lee, COPS Director Melekian, Nothern California U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag and officials from San Jose, Salinas, Stockton and Tulare in celebrating the grant awards.
“Stopping violence requires not just police, but police who interact with the community,” said Mayor Quan, who yet again pushed for the intervention and prevention strategies the COPS program is geared towards. Quan and Chief Batts said that OPD will begin focusing its officers around four middle schools to ensure the security of Oakland youth and focus on crimes that take place nearby.
Batts was careful to portray the effort as one of protection and mentoring, rather than targeting youth.
“We’re not saying schools are the problem, we’re not saying kids are the problem, but that’s where we’re focusing,” said Batts.
Other officers may be used to combat prostitution and human trafficking, which have long been a problem in East Oakland. Chief Batts also touted the effectiveness of “focused patrols” that OPD has been conducting over the past two months, which he credits with reducing the city’s crime rate recently.
Batts and U.S. Attorney Haag also hinted at a renewed federal-city partnership to tackle violent crime. Federal and county prosecutors are already working to charge enhancements against people caught committing crimes near schools, and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and the U.S. Marshals are assisting OPD with investigations and violence suppression. A similar collaboration was also run last year.