Mayor Libby Schaaf's request to bring CHP officers in to assist Oakland police came in response to calls from community members concerned over crime Credit: Courtesy of California Highway Patrol

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California Highway Patrol officers began patrolling Oakland streets on Sunday as part of an informal agreement between the city and state to beef up police presence in high-injury corridors, which includes 34 streets and 22 intersections spread throughout the city’s flatlands. 

The arrival of CHP came about a month after Gov. Gavin Newsom, at the request of Mayor Libby Schaaf and Chinatown leaders, agreed to send officers to assist Oakland police with sideshows and crack down on reckless driving.

The corridors include most of downtown, International Boulevard, 98th Avenue, 35th Avenue, MacArthur Boulevard, Fruitvale Avenue, Grand Avenue, Telegraph Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, according to the city’s Department of Transportation. 

On Sunday, six CHP officers patrolled downtown and West Oakland from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. 

Assignments will vary based on OPD’s needs, CHP Capt. Stephen Perea said. This could include attempts to prevent sideshows, which are exhibitions of stunt driving often attended by dozens or hundreds of spectators, and sometimes involving gunfire and other illegal acts. But if CHP is not needed for a sideshow detail, the officers will be out enforcing the vehicle code, stopping drivers for speeding, driving recklessly or drunk, or for seat belt and cell phone violations, Perea said. 

On Sunday, officers made several dozen stops of drivers and pedestrians, but no arrests. 

“Our emphasis is on proactive vehicle code enforcement, meaning before they crash,” Perea said. “If we can lower the crash footprint statistically as far as injuries and fatal crashes, I would consider that a success.”

This is not the first time CHP was called on to help police Oakland streets. In 2013, the Oakland City Council approved a 60-day agreement to have CHP officers on patrol for two nights a week, usually on weekends. The agreement followed a four-month period where CHP patrolled for free. 

Schaaf and Oakland police Chief LeRonne Armstrong announced the new collaboration on Friday, a day after a suspected drunk driver going an estimated 90 mph ran a red light on International Boulevard at 38th Avenue and crashed into a minivan, injuring nine family members including a 2-year-old and 8-year-old. 

According to a 2017 city study, on average about 7 pedestrians are struck and killed by a car each year, and 22 suffer severe injuries. 

“All of our residents deserve safer streets in their neighborhoods,” Schaaf said in a statement. 

OPD truly appreciates the assistance of CHP,” said Chief Armstrong. “CHP’s presence will provide much-needed assistance with the illegal sideshow activity that has plagued communities across our city. With their partnership, we seek to eradicate this illegal sideshow epidemic that has caused so many sleepless nights for our residents here in Oakland.”

The new collaboration follows pleas from Chinatown Chamber of Commerce President Carl Chan, who called on Newsom to declare a “state of emergency” in Oakland. Activists have criticized the agreement, saying there is no local oversight of CHP and the officers do not have to follow the policies of the Oakland Police Department. 

Not everyone is supportive of CHP’s temporary assistance in Oakland. At a rally last month, members of Anti-Police Terror Project and Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice joined Councilmember Carroll Fife and the sister of 23-year-old Erik Salgado to denounce the idea of allowing CHP to patrol city streets. Salgado was shot and killed by three CHP officers last June, after he tried to flee from a traffic stop. Salgado, who was unarmed, was stopped for driving a stolen vehicle. 

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Salgado’s sister, Amanda Majail-Blanco told The Oaklandside in August. “CHP already has a nasty presence in Oakland and a lot of people have had bad experiences.” 

CHP is expected to assist OPD on weekends through the end of September. The patrols are being paid for by grants through the state Office of Traffic Safety. 

David DeBolt reports on City Hall and policing for The Oaklandside. He spent 12 years working for daily newspapers in the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula and Solano County. He joined the Bay Area News Group in 2012 where he covered a variety of beats, most recently as a senior breaking news reporter. During his time at BANG, DeBolt covered Oakland City Hall, the Raiders stadium saga and the A’s search for a new ballpark, as well as the Oakland Police Department and police reform efforts. He was part of the East Bay Times staff honored with the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for coverage of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.