Top cops in SF, Oakland discuss crime-fighting plans

February 7, 2013 7:40:08 PM PST
Five weeks into the New Year, police on both sides of the Bay are trying to prevent the same level of violence seen in 2012 in both Oakland and San Francisco.

Oakland is already off to a bloody start -- four people killed in four separate shootings in just one day in January.

ABC7 News has an exclusive interview with the top cops in both cities ? Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan and San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr. For the first time, they sat down together to answer my questions about what's happening on the streets and what they plan to do about it.

Dan Ashley: "You said the violent crime rate in Oakland was embarrassing to the city and to you. Why are you embarrassed?"
Howard Jordan: "Because as a police chief, Dan, it's important that our officers and the direction that we give is to protect the citizens of Oakland. And I feel embarrassed because I don't think that we were able to do a very good job of doing that."

The murders make that clear. 131 people were killed on the streets of Oakland last year, the most since 2006 when 148 people lost their lives to violence. Burglaries are up by more than 40 percent -- roughly 33 every single day in 2012.

Dan Ashley: "You're not making an excuse, you're saying you can do better?"
Howard Jordan: "When you sit in the office on the very first day of being a chief, the first thing that you realize is that the buck stops with you."

Accountability is also something San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr accepts and expects. His department investigated 68 murders in 2012 -- an increase over the three previous years.

Dan Ashley: "Do you take it personally too?"
Greg Suhr: "Totally. I don't think anyone should want their chief of police to be any different. If you don't take it personally, then it's not the job for you. I mean, we own it."

Part of "owning it" is dealing with officers who fall short of expectations, or worse. One video shows San Francisco cops entering residential hotel rooms without warrants and sometimes stealing.

Police in Oakland have had their challenges with trust as well. Their aggressive response to an Occupy protests didn't help.

Both chiefs believe trust is earned, which is why they ask officers to build relationships with people on their beats in person and online.

Howard Jordan: "We've seen a dramatic uptick in cooperation in some of our neighborhoods we've never seen that before."
Dan Ashley: "Do you attribute that, chief, to the level of violence that we've seen, that it may be a tipping point that people have decided that they can't sit back and take it anymore?"
Howard Jordan: "I think that's one of the reasons, Dan. They're starting to have confidence in the judicial system and when that starts to happen, when they start to trust the system and the police, understand what it takes to cooperate with the police and how important it is for them to be a part of that process."

Cops talking with the community helps fight and even predict crime. At least that's the theory.

Howard Jordan: "That's why we put a lot of efforts into finding the people, and preventing the next murder from happening."
Dan Ashley: "But you haven't prevented the next murder from happening, the tide is not being stemmed in terms of the killings on the streets, is the reality."
Howard Jordan: "In some areas we've actually made a lot of stride in predicting, or trying to predict where the next shooting will take place."

Predicting where and when retaliation attacks are likely. That kind of police work is made tougher when you're down hundreds of officers. Budget cuts have hurt both departments, making them less proactive, more reactive.

Greg Suhr: "If you're going call to call to call to call, you don't get to that."
Dan Ashley: "And that's what you are doing?"
Greg Suhr: "And that's what we're doing, as best as we can here in San Francisco with the resources that we have."
Dan Ashley: "You guys will always say you need more cops."

To that, Chief Suhr says to just get him back to what voters approved as a fully staffed police force, in 1971."

Greg Suhr: "You won't hear me ask for another officer at least until I get to 1971. And I'll make good use of every single cop that I get on my way there."

That's not likely to happen any time soon. So these two lawmen must protect people as best they can with what they have.

To that end, both chiefs approach crime as a regional problem, requiring cooperation between their departments. Their officers often work cases on both sides of the bridge.

Greg Suhr: "I think it's just going to get better and better, and make both cities safer as a byproduct."
Dan Ashley: "Oakland's crime problems is San Francisco's crime problem, and vice versa?"
Greg Suhr: "Absolutely."

I also asked both Chief Suhr and Chief Jordan about gun control, a national debate with new intensity after the Sandy Hook tragedy. And while both support the rights of gun owners, they believe strongly there needs to be change. They say to ban internet gun sales and high-capacity assault rifles, among other measures.

I did not include the chief of police of the Bay Area's other major city, San Jose, because they have a new interim chief in place. When the permanent chief is hired, I'll certainly sit down for a similar conversation.

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