Plans for more downtown Oakland security

January 16, 2009 12:54:15 PM PST
Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums wants to hire private security guards and have more police patrols downtown following an outbreak of violence at the end of a mostly peaceful protest Wednesday night over the shooting death of Oscar Grant III.

Dellums said that Thursday he met with a group of downtown business leaders, property managers and small business owners in a roundtable forum to assess the damage the vandalism and discuss how the city can help businesses in their recovery efforts as well as address the longer-term public safety needs in the city's business corridors.

Oakland police say 18 people were arrested during Wednesday's rally, which was held to express outrage over the shooting death of Grant, a 22-year-old Hayward father who was unarmed and was lying on his stomach, at the hands of former Bay Area Rapid Transit police Officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale station in Oakland early on New Year's Day.

Although Wednesday's rally turned violent at the end, it was still much less violent than a protest the previous week, when more than 100 people were arrested and violence was more widespread.

Oakland officials say the vandalism generally was confined to the Oakland City Center area, where nine businesses had windows broken out. A vacant business on 10th Street in nearby Old Oakland also had windows broken out.

Dellums said in a statement, "I am deeply saddened that a small group of people bent on destruction chose to trash downtown Oakland."

He said, "The senseless vandalism followed a well-organized protest where people came together in peace and solidarity to express their grief, outrage and collective demand for justice, and an end to the violence that has claimed the lives of so many young men of color, most recently that of Oscar Grant at the hands of a former BART police officer.

Dellums said, "I am proud of the passionate and nonviolent manner that more than 1,000 people expressed themselves during the earlier protest."

The mayor said that under his authority to act in an emergency capacity, he is directing city staff to enter in to an immediate, sole-source contract with an Oakland-based firm to provide high-visibility security services for the next 60 to 90 days to address the potential for problems at future protests.

Dellums said the security personnel would be unarmed and work under the auspices of the Oakland Police Department to serve as additional eyes and ears for the department on the street, observing and reporting problems.

He said he has also directed the Police Department to increase its patrols downtown and enhance its community policing efforts by getting out of their cars and building relationships with merchants and businesses.

In addition, Dellums said that at the request of merchants and business leaders he has agreed to "streamline the exchange of timely and accurate information between the business community, law enforcement and city leaders to that problems can be identified and communicated more quickly and efficiently."

The mayor said, "Our businesses are the background of a vibrant economy. We are acting quickly to restore confidence in the business community and the patrons of our local businesses so that they will come downtown and feel safe."