Dozens of people sitting in a high school auditorium. A woman in the front row holds a large handwritten sign that reads "Do more."
About 200 North Oakland residents attended a public safety forum at Oakland Technical High School on May 30, 2023. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

Dozens of residents lined up behind a microphone at a public safety forum hosted by District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb on Tuesday to voice their concerns about violent crime in their North Oakland neighborhoods. Many criticized Kalb and other city officials, accusing them of being ineffective in the face of public safety threats.

See for yourself

The District 1 public safety meeting was live streamed over Facebook and recorded. You can watch it here.

The forum at Oakland Technical High School was organized by Kalb amid a perceived uptick in robberies in Rockridge, Temescal, and other parts of the city. According to OPD, robberies citywide have increased 7% this year compared to the same time last year. The Oaklandside couldn’t confirm that number, however, since the website where OPD publishes its weekly crime reports hasn’t been publicly available for several weeks now. 

Regardless, many North Oakland residents on Tuesday described witnessing a rise in disturbing crimes in recent months, including assaults in broad daylight and rashes of auto burglaries. Several women who spoke at the meeting said they believe robbery crews are purposefully targeting women in violent attacks.

OPD announced earlier this month that it had arrested over a dozen people—many of them juveniles—thought to be responsible for dozens of assaults across the city, in two separate operations. Little is known about the cases due to confidentiality laws protecting children.

Mayor Sheng Thao has proposed making cuts to virtually every city department over the next two years, due to the city’s $360 million budget deficit. The cuts include freezing vacant police officer positions and reducing the amount the city spends on police overtime, which will result in fewer officers patrolling the streets.

Kalb expressed concern about the service reductions to law enforcement on Tuesday, but was frequently shouted down by attendees when he attempted several times to share information about the budget and city programs. One of his most vocal critics was Seneca Scott, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor last year and leads Neighbors Together Oakland, a resident advocacy group. Scott, who brought his own microphone and loudspeaker and disrupted the meeting several times by blowing a noisemaker, was accompanied by other activists who booed the officials on stage. Others attending the rowdy meeting shouted at Scott several times to be quiet.

Dan Kalb wearing a suit and tie and Oakland Police Captain Jeff Thomason in uniform seated at a table on a stage.
District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb (left) and Oakland Police Capt. Jeffrey Thomason. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

Kentrell Killens, the interim chief of Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention, was also booed and shouted at when he spoke about his team’s work, which involves contacting people involved in violent crime, including perpetrators and victims, and offering them services, counseling, and other services to break cycles of trauma and turn their lives around. 

Earlier on Tuesday, dozens of community members protested outside Oakland City Hall against cuts to violence prevention, which are also included in Mayor Thao’s budget. Others spoke during Tuesday’s council meeting in support of non-police public safety programs.

“When we see on the news people breaking into cars, committing crimes, I see a different person,” Killens told the gathering. “I see individuals who are hurting.”

Some in the audience responded by angrily shouting “Oh come on!” and “Really?” while others booed and called Killens a “liar.”

“I know this is not what you want to hear. I know some of you believe that locking folks up is the answer to everything,” said Killens.

Throughout the night, attendees called for more police and harsher punishments, including for juveniles.

Adam Stemmler, co-owner of Arthur Mac’s Tap and Snack near MacArthur BART, said his business doesn’t feel safe handling cash anymore because of several armed robberies. He accused Kalb of ignoring his pleas for help.

Kalb responded that he’s met with Stemmler’s co-owner Joel DiGiorgio several times, but acknowledged that the city has been slow to act about safety concerns in the neighborhood.

People sitting in the first row of an auditorium.
Attendees of the public safety forum, which was rowdy at times, with members of the audience shouting angrily and activists disrupting the meeting. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

Amy Greenberg, a District 4 resident, accused the city of restraining the police. She said Oakland police officers have told her that they can’t always pull over drivers who appear to be looking to commit crimes, due to OPD policies governing traffic stops. “The police are essentially neutered in this environment,” she said.

One woman who did not give her name but said she’s almost 60-years-old, described being assaulted in front of her home by two “fresh faced” young people who attempted to mug her and take her purse.

North Oakland resident Carley Hunt told Kalb, Killens, and OPD Captain Jeffrey Thomason that she’s looking over her shoulder when she walks her neighborhood. She’s heard about assaults against other women and fears getting hurt while out with her child.

A trans person and their partner described being robbed twice recently, first by four men who threatened them with a knife, and then by men with a gun.

Bob Tuck, whose family has owned a business in Oakland since 1912, said someone recently crashed a car into the front door of his shop, his son was shot on 14th and Webster in downtown Oakland, and some of employees have had their cars stolen. In one case, his employees followed car thieves but had guns drawn on them. He asked Kalb to commit to not freezing about 90 police officer positions as part of the budget balancing plan.

One attendee, Burt Wank, said he’s considering moving his business out of Oakland because he was robbed at gunpoint a week ago. He said Oaklanders can’t wait for the “long-term” policies of the Department of Violence Prevention to reduce crime levels.

“We need to act—I know there’s policy issues in the long term. Policy, look at Morocco, you want to steal in Morocco, your hand is gone. The measures here are inadequate. Why is Singapore a great place? Well, look at enforcement,” said Wank.

A Rockridge resident who identified himself as Julian, said Oakland is becoming a “shithole” because of crime. “I’ve been to Nigeria, I have been to Ghana, I have been to Southeast Asia. This is worse today,” he said while accusing District Attorney Pamela Price of “coddling” criminal defendants.

Toward the end of the meeting, a resident who described herself as a woman of color spoke about being racially profiled. “When I walk through Rockridge and I go through stores I’m followed around. They think I’m a criminal,” she said.

Some in the audience booed her.

Tuesday’s town hall meeting came two weeks after a similar forum hosted by the Grand Lake Neighbors Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church. At that meeting, which was prompted by several armed robberies along Trestle Glen and other residential streets, including a shooting where a child was hit by bullet fragments, residents called for more police staffing. Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas, who represents the area, was also criticized by some residents because of her support in recent years for non-police public safety programs, including the work of the Department of Violence Prevention.

Last week, Fruitvale merchants put District 5 Councilmember Noel Gallo on the hotseat by demanding the city increase police presence in the Public Market Plaza and Fruitvale Village due to several shootings and other violent crimes in their neighborhood.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.