Recently retired Oakland deputy chief worried about future of policing amid rising crime rates

ByKen Miguel and Phil Matier via KGO logo
Tuesday, October 25, 2022
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Former Oakland Deputy Police Chief Chris Bolton details the obstacles the department, city is now facing amid an increase in crime rates.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- As the city of Oakland grapples with an increase in violent crime and shootings, police are looking for answers and solutions.

Former Deputy Chief Chris Bolton retired from the Oakland Police Department earlier this year (2022) feeling good about the direction the department was going.

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However, now, he's worried, and he has serious concerns about how departments like Oakland - or anywhere in the Bay Area - will be able to attract new recruits and keep them.

There is the perception that despite all the changes, or maybe because of them, things have actually gotten worse on the streets of Oakland and other major cities.

Below is a transcript of ABC7 News Inside Phil Matier's conversation with Former Oakland Deputy Chief Chris Bolton:

Bolton: "Within my career, it depends on how far you go back. I think that the city of Oakland and major cities, in general, have experienced peaks and valleys. This is definitely a valley for not just Bay Area, not just California, but really nationwide."

Matier: "In other words, when you say valley, you mean it's really in the dumps?"

Bolton: "It's difficult for a number of reasons. Yes."

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Matier: "Like what?"

Bolton: "Well, crime is up. I think police agencies are having to deal with those violent crime rises and serious crime rises. In addition to the difficulties of hiring, staffing, recruiting, keeping people in the jobs."

Matier: "We have to be honest about it. I mean, in the last 10 years, there's been a lot of bad moments for police forces all over the nation. And to this day, you can turn on the TV once a week and there's probably been a questionable shooting somewhere. And it's on video."

Bolton: "It is true that there have been a number of abhorrent outcomes, and it is true that even within my career, there have been challenges and calls to change, and rightfully so. We owe that to the communities we serve."

Matier: "So what makes this time period different?"

Bolton: "I think that anti-police rhetoric, the vitriol involved in sort of personalizing the problems of policing have been the highest that perhaps they've been since at least the late '60s. So I think you have that personalized sense of dissatisfied action that, you know, if you're in a job to do well and you get repeated feedback of negativity, distrust despite your best efforts."

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Matier: "How thin is Oakland?"

Bolton: "I believe that there's somewhere around 680 sworn officers. That's compared to the average for let's say 10 years ago was probably somewhere around 780 to the peak of my career. We had 812 officers."

Matier: "What's the most frustrating thing you came across in your years as a police officer? Personally."

Bolton: "I think it's what people may not appreciate or fully understand that is involved in police work. And this has somewhat to do with that feeling of being personally attacked for your vocation. But the reality is that I am extremely proud about many of the changes this department has made. I'm proud of the culture. I'm proud of many of the changes we've made that have now been replicated. There are certain things that can be done better. I'm not saying that anything is perfect. However, much of that work, in my opinion, has been lost."

Matier: "What are we faced with in the streets?"

Bolton: "Well, part of that frustration is making an arrest. Having a contact. Looking at what tools or avenues of resolution are at your disposal. And really coming away dissatisfied with having put that time and energy in repeatedly arresting the same people, repeatedly referring the same person for mental health treatment and seeing them right back out again without conditions or situations improving. That is extremely frustrating."

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Matier: "Right now, the chief is saying he wants to start stopping people on the streets and checking them for guns is not going to it's going to create another backlash."

Bolton: "You know, in my experience, what you want to do is have well-intentioned efforts that are supported by politicians, that are supported by the laws. They're supported by the best policies and practices. We want people to see a lot of police, but we want those police officers to be doing legitimate law enforcement actions as viewed by the community and all that."

Matier: "That's where there's a gap. Some people see legitimate, then pulling over a court full of people that are suspects and looking, checking for their guns as legitimate, giving the shooting that's going on. Sure. Getting the guns off the street. Other people see that as targeting and racial harassment. How do you get the two together?"

Bolton: "There will always be disagreement. And some of that is useful because it pushes you to reconsider and rethink how you're doing things. And that's just a process that happens."

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Matier: "But when it comes to building community trust, if somebody is arrested for having a gun and then they're out within a day, why would anybody come forward and say that was the shooter? I mean, they're back on the street. I mean, you know, if you can't protect a witness."

Bolton: "Again, one of those factors that has negatively influenced public safety. Absolutely. There should be well-communicated consequences for behavior that leads to crime and serious violence."

Matier: "Would you advise your children or any young person to get into policing?"

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Bolton: "That it's difficult for that average person who's interested because the average police officer who is in this vocation now, they're in it because it's within their heart. They want to provide that type of service. And often they can for a number of years. Do I think policing is possible as a career for decades? I think that perhaps those days are gone."

Matier: "I've got to ask you something. What's more challenging? What's going on in the streets for a police officer and somebody that's been inside on the brass or the politics of Oakland, that in part has led to so many chiefs exiting, which is tougher."

Bolton: "The politics here are relentless."