PANIL Meeting, March 20, 2024

The topic for this meeting was Meeting Your Police, and it was the first meeting of the year in which we’ve been able to have a representative from OPD attend. Officer Meeran Gichki joined us.

Officer Gichki is not the current Community Resource Officer (CRO) for our beat, 9X, but he has served in that role in the past. He’s current the CRO for Beat 12 more in the hills. Our beat’s current CRO is Nathnael Estifanos, but he is on leave in the aftermath of the killing of Officer Tuan Le, who was killed on duty in late December.

Officer Gichki provided crime statistics for February-March 2024. While most numbers are up from last year throughout the City, the statistics for the 9X beat are actually lower for the same period. However, one increase has been in carjackings where the perpetrator actually steals the vehicle when the driver is in or about the car.

Making a Report to the Police
One Piedmont Avenue shop owner stated that the reporting process is onerous and confusing, both by telephone and online, and she asks herself “why bother,” especially given the low chances of catching the perpetrator. Another attendee reported he waited 40 minutes to get through on the non-emergency line to report a license plate theft. That, like several other crimes, cannot be reported via the online system. Officer Gichki said that, in spite of those difficulties, it is very important to report crimes even if there appears to be little chance of getting them solved because the reports can establish patterns of the activity and provide leads to eventual apprehension. Valerie Winemiller reminded us that, as a very sage politician told her, in a bureaucracy, if a crime is not documented, it didn’t happen.

Officer Gichki could not provide answers to policy or political questions, such as why don’t we have a police chief. [On Friday March 22 — two days after this meeting — the mayor announced the hiring of the new Chief, Floyd Mitchell.] Gichki could however tell us that there is a substantial increase in juvenile criminal activity, and that criminals appear to come from out of town to commit crimes in Oakland, Gitchki felt it was possibly because of more restrictions on what police can do here, though there is controversy on that issue. He also pointed to low staffing levels. He opined there are many more police needed, noting the San Francisco has over twice the number of officers (1589 vs. 726). [SF does have an 80% higher population.] The City attempts to recruit at community colleges in and out of the state. The pay is good. [According to Indeed, the average starting base pay for OPD officers is a $111K.] Neighbor Alan Bernstein cited the huge generous pension package for police and fire that must be addressed to reduce that budgetary burden we perennially face.

The officer noted there are virtually no lateral transfers from other Bay Area departments into OPD, perhaps because the work here is more challenging than in more suburban departments. He himself considered moving to a sheriff’s department near Sacramento, but was inspired to stay by Officer Le, and the way his coworkers came together after the officer’s tragic death.

Asked how the cooperation has been with the CHP, Officer Gichki responded that it was very positive. Not only do they add to the volume of police on the streets, they have made dozens of arrests, and their policies allow them to pursue perpetrators OPD cannot. We don’t know how much longer this partnership will be in place.

What Can Be Done?
Several audience members felt that the crime problem has never been this bad in Oakland. Some blame elected officials, though it is clear that there is confusion over the powers and responsibilities of the different offices and staff departments. Recall petitions have been circulating, with more threatened, most funded primarily by the same wealthy individuals and groups. Here is an article on funders of the District Attorney recall, and here is what we know so far about the funders of the mayoral recall. Our District Councilperson Dan Kalb will not be running for re-election, and new names will be on the ballot. Bill Manley suggested PANIL, perhaps together with another neighborhood, could hold a candidates night in the fall to assess their approaches to crime and other issues.

One audience member felt that PANIL itself was not doing enough to combat crime. Manley stated that PANIL has no legal power or resources to do any more than raise the issues and provide an opportunity for officials and citizens to air their strategies and issues, respectively.

There was a general feeling that PANIL needs the younger demographic to get more involved, and an audience member suggested that NextDoor could be a vehicle for that. To that end, please share this e-newsletter with your block email list, and please contact PANIL with your ideas of other ways to publicize PANIL projects and meetings.

The meeting concluded at 8 pm.