Drugs often behind violent Oakland crimes

May 16, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Sadly, homicide, drugs and violence are common place in Oakland's flatlands. In this Assignment 7 report, we offer you a unique perspective on what's going on. One police officer gives us a look at the streets of Oakland from his eyes.

The fences in West Oakland are more about keeping people out than keeping them in. Gangs battle over turf and drugs are readily available on the streets. Thirty-two people were killed in one neighborhood last year.

"I chose Oakland because of the training. It's kind of the gold standard in terms of preparing officers for urban environments," says Officer Nate Brooks who has been with the Oakland Police Department for three years. "I like the action, I like the challenge of, you know, responding to a lot of calls, a lot of in-progress crimes."

A former school teacher turned policeman, Brooks is particularly concerned about the kids on the streets of West Oakland.

"I've been doing work with the Youth and Family Services Department within Oakland and trying to address some of those specific needs related to youth."

Officer Brooks knows well that the kids he encounters are vulnerable -- easily tempted into gang life or resorting to crime to make some easy money.

Just in the last three months in West Oakland, there have been more than 130 robberies and burglaries, almost as many vehicle thefts, and nearly 200 drug arrests. Cocaine and heroin are traded for cash on street corners.

We rode along with Officer Brooks as he encountered three young men with criminal records who were not in school. They were taken to the local truancy center.

Officer Brooks carries a folder filled with the names and photos of the worst offenders.

"You can stop them and they'll give false names and false information, so it's a challenge to try to identify exactly who they are."

Drugs are a part of daily life in this part of Oakland.

"It's robbing our communities and our cities of a lot of the talented young black men."

When Officer Brooks tried to stop one car, two young men threw something out the window and sped off. Department policy prevented Brooks from chasing the car. On the street, he found what he believes is heroin they left behind. The men got away.

Heroin is not the only drug Officer Brooks saw that day. A report of a teen with a gun sent the officer racing to 26th and Martin Luther King Junior Way.

"Back in the day it used to end in a fist fight. Now it ends with somebody pulling a gun."

In one instance, six young men were caught. A bag filled with $250 worth of suspected cocaine was found nearby. A wad of cash was found on one suspect and more possible cocaine on another. But they found no gun, meaning if there was one, someone got away.

Officer brooks doesn't take it too hard.

"If I was tasked with ridding West Oakland of its drug problem, then that's a huge problem and very frustrating, but I try to concentrate on the small, small piece that I can contribute to a larger team."

It's an endless cycle in a city under siege where each officer hopes to overcome the obstacles and wonders what's behind the next corner.

"To me it's the beauty of the job. There's no two days that are going to be the same."

Written and produced by Ken Miguel


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