By Gregory K. Taylor
The Oakland Police Department, once the bellwether of policing has now been reduced to an agency that is so hamstrung that it can't, with any consistency, carry out many of its designed duties or get out of its own way. When I hired on, the OPD (with the aid of Federal Funds) was a bastion of technological prowess that stood head and shoulders above most, if not all, California Police Agencies--and that includes the touted LAPD.
We were one of three agencies, and the only one in the state of California, that had in-vehicle Computers (Albany, N.Y. and Kansas City, MO., the other two) called Digicom—the forerunner of today's police computers. Argus, our helicopter before it was named that, was so valuable to the beat officer that fleeing suspects often surrendered to its spotlight. The long foot chase became a few fence hops followed by the surrender of a totally befuddled bad guy. We were always on the cutting edge of police technology. I remember sitting in a new tricked out, high-tech police car thinking I had just entered a NASA space capsule; from the overhead console with an array of alert buttons, to the Digital computer, to the newly installed electronic siren with yelp, and yes, finally our first rudimentary light bar.
Now, I hear stories of Highway Patrol and Sheriff's officers handling calls for service in Oakland. Unheard of during my tenure. The deepest a CHP officer would venture into Oakland was to get a bite to eat, and an ACSO officer, if he wasn't serving an eviction notice, he would be sitting at a desk in a courtroom or monitoring a prisoner in a Jail cell. The murder rate was just as high setting records then too. The strength of the department, as best I can remember, never exceeded 715 sworn members--if it ever got that high.
So, what went wrong? Are these the death throes of a dying department? I don't know where the blame lies, perhaps, with us all. The election of an accidental mayor (ranked-choice voting) has only aggravated the situation. Maybe, the previous years of questionable and some downright bad behavior might be catching up to the department. Whatever the reason, I am disheartened to see a once proud agency that “knew how,” now asking, “how to” and lamenting, “how come?”