By Mike Blasky
Contra Costa Times
OAKLAND — The Police Department is proposing to add employees, replace outdated equipment and devote more officers to extra community engagement initiatives in a million-dollar effort to track how firearms end up in the hands of Oakland criminals.
If adopted by the City Council, the department would add two crime analysts and a records specialist to streamline the tedious process of recording and tracking firearms confiscated by officers after a crime.
The plan stems from an extra $1 million the City Council approved in the two-year budget this summer, a last-minute addition by Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan. The council’s Public Safety Committee will hear the proposal on Tuesday, and then it could be moved to the full council later this month.
Oakland police confiscate guns and drugs from a bottom unit of a home on Filbert Street in Oakland on Oct. 2, 2015. The city’s two-year budget
Oakland police confiscate guns and drugs from a bottom unit of a home on Filbert Street in Oakland on Oct. 2, 2015. The city’s two-year budget includes $1 million to take steps to track how firearms end up in the hands of Oakland criminals. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)
“We know these crimes are happening with illegal firearms,” Kaplan said. “If we can better control the number of guns coming into our city, then we can actually do something about crime.”
Currently, police enter the details on a paper “gun card” for every illegal firearm taken in, and then an investigator later manually enters the data on a computer, according to a report by the Police Department to the public safety committee.
And although the U.S. doesn’t have a national gun-tracking database, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allows local police to request information about the purchasing history of confiscated guns already used in crimes.
That information could be used to help track how illegal guns are coming to the city, and analysts could create maps to identify trends. But “OPD currently lacks analysts or investigators to sort through the data,” the report said.
Oakland has seen a slight uptick in homicides this year after a 15-year low, and although the number of nonfatal shootings has remained down, reducing gun violence has continued to be Mayor Libby Schaaf’s main priority after a series of brazen shootings this year in the city, including the killing of a muralist in broad daylight.
Schaaf said the funding will help Oakland police be more efficient and effective, noting that she’s often lobbied the state Assembly for stricter gun laws.
“By gathering the evidence needed to hold shooters and their associates accountable for their crimes, Oakland can do for itself what lawmakers have not had the will to achieve legislatively,” Schaaf said.
In addition to the new employees, the department would spend $221,000 to purchase three new gun microscope cameras, a gun laser scanner and technology to automate firearm data.
But a big chunk of the funding is geared for a familiar topic for Oakland officers — overtime.
Police plan to spend $360,000 over two years to have officers talk to residents after gunfire is detected near their homes by ShotSpotter, which records gunshots and determines the geographical location and sends an exact map location directly to patrol officers.
Kaplan said that’s a key point, and something she argued for including. Officers at the scene can collect shells, interview witnesses and generally improve their standing with a community that, because of lack of police resources, can’t respond promptly to all reports of gunfire without a victim.
“Police showing up could encourage a neighborhood, letting them know that somebody is serving and protecting them,” she said.
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