Police assessing response to looting in Oakland

July 26, 2010 7:04:58 PM PDT
Bay Area police agencies are meeting this week to review their response to the rampage after the BART police shooting verdict. They acknowledge that massive communication gaps hurt their efforts to contain the chaos in downtown Oakland.

Oakland police prepared for the Mehserle verdict for three weeks. They enlisted the help of 15 other police agencies. While Oakland's deputy police chief said officers did a good job, they still acknowledged that violence and looting happened within feet of where police officers stood.

Captain Dave Downing was in charge of the response; he says for looting, it's about reaction, not prevention.

"It's going to be reactionary, you have to wait until something happens before you have a violation of law; it is your right to demonstrate," he said.

"Why?" is the question law enforcement agencies will be asking themselves this week.

JC Jewelry on Broadway and 19th Street was one of the businesses broken into and looted on July 8. Looters broke down an iron gate, broke the windows and grabbed what they could as store workers tried to fight them off while protecting themselves and the store.

"Over $50,000, with all the merchandise, with all the glass, the windows, the doors, the gates," said employee Tony Moeuth.

Moeuth is still trying to understand how looters and vandals could have caused so much damage with police standing just a few feet away.

"I saw the police park right in front of me. Police parked right there on 20th," he said. "And then when it happened, there was no police."

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland police are preparing a debriefing soon to determine why with 15 police agencies on the street that night, vandals were able to cause around $750,000 worth of property damage and looting.

One issue police acknowledge is a communications glitch. According to the Office of Emergency Services, officers from surrounding cities could not talk on the Oakland police band, leaving Alameda County Sheriffs and Oakland police trying to bridge communications among the other agencies.

Moeuth says his various 9-1-1 calls for help when the store was being vandalized went unanswered.

"We had like three lines, cell phone... We have two business lines here, so we were all on our cell phones at the same time while we were fighting off the intruders," he said. "We couldn't get anybody. They basically, they didn't understand us or they did understand us, and they just hanged up on us."

Moeuth says that for the Mehserle sentencing in November, he is going to make sure his store is completely boarded up just in case.

The Office of Emergency Services says they never had a chance to field test their communication systems before July 8. They say they are going to work on it now to make sure the glitch does not happen again.


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