'It's a tragedy': Oakland crime spikes amid pandemic with worst homicide rate in 7 years

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Like major cities across the country, Oakland has seen a major uptick in crime in the past six months, especially when it comes to homicides.

"Every funeral home's got youngsters in it," said Todd Walker, a longtime Oakland community activist, coach and funeral director. He's seeing a crisis, especially among young people, within a pandemic.

"If there ain't nothing for them to do," explained Walker, "it's easy to get misled and get involved in something you don't need to be in, and right now it's killing."

Oakland homicides have now topped 100 for the first time in seven years, 94 of those are considered murders by Oakland police. On Monday afternoon, two men were shot and killed, in separate incidents, within 11 minutes.

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Last week, the city saw roving bands of looters and armed robbers with little or no police response to dozens of priority 911 calls.

"I would say we're seeing some really, really unique circumstances that I would call a perfect storm right now," said Oakland's Interim Police Chief Susan Manheimer, "because of the pandemic, the angst, the anxiety, along with the early release of prisoners and the inability to hold people in jail for lower level crimes for a cooling off period. I think they've all contributed."

The crime spike comes as the community demands more police accountability, led by the city council and the "Reimaginging Public Safety Task Force," which has a goal of reducing the city's police budget by 50%. So far though, the council has approved only a relatively small $14 million budget cut for OPD.

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"It's a tragedy that we're losing as many lives as we are in our city," said Loren Taylor, Oakland city council member and the co-chair of the task force. "The majority of the city of Oakland agrees that there are some things that we should be looking at pulling off the plate of our law enforcement officers so they can work on the more serious, life-threatening issues."

While the council and task force continue their work to reimagine the department, a new poll by the Oakland Chamber of Commerce shows that among many Oakland residents, their trust in their police has decreased, but they don't necessarily want fewer of them on the street.

Thirty-eight percent of Oaklanders said their trust in police has decreased in recent months, but at the same time, 58% want the number of officers in their city to increase, or at least stay the same. That number is 70% among Black voters.

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Todd Walker doesn't think de-funding or reducing the number of officers is the right move for Oakland, but he also says officers alone aren't the answer to all the violence that's going on now.

"I say keep the police where they are and bring in the community leaders that know these kids," he said.
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