By Magaly Muñoz
On Monday morning, community leaders including representatives from the Oakland NAACP chapter held a press conference at Acts Full Gospel Church to discuss their response to the city’s failure to meet the deadline for applying for state funding aimed at tackling organized retail crime.
Last year Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bills 154 and 178 introduced by Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Alameda) allocating a total of $267,118,293 to fight organized retail crime, the largest-ever single investment by the state.
On Sept. 14, the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) awarded grants from the state budget to 55 local law enforcement agencies across California as part of the Governor’s Real Public Safety Plan. These grants, aimed at preventing, investigating, and prosecuting cases of organized retail theft, will be distributed among 34 police departments, 7 sheriff’s departments, one probation department, and 13 district attorney offices.
The application for the awards opened on April 14 and were due by July 7 at 5 p.m. (PST) through an online submission port.
In the Bay Area, law enforcement grants were awarded to San Francisco ($17.3 million), Fremont ($2.4 million), Newark ($986,444), Vacaville ($4.4 million), Santa Rosa ($560,653) and San Ramon ($5.6 million). In addition, $2 million in grants were awarded to the Alameda County District Attorney and San Francisco District Attorney.
Had Oakland made the application deadline, NAACP estimates that it could have received about $15 million for “extra police patrols, squad cars, and automated license plate readers to track down suspected perpetrators of crime.”
Participating on the press conference panel from the Oakland NAACP branch were Robert L. Harris, general counsel; Cynthia Adams, chapter president; Greg McConnell, lifetime member; Terry Whiley, legal redress committee chair; and representing the community was Carl Chan, former president of Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce; Bishop Bob Jackson, senior pastor at Acts Full Gospel Church; and Noel Gallo, Oakland city councilmember.
The panel said they don’t fully believe that the city accidentally missed the grant deadline, but just didn’t care to complete the application for unknown reasons that should be shared with the community. This has prompted the NAACP to ask for an independent investigation by the city auditor.
“Why wasn’t the application for a $15 million grant to fight retail theft not given the highest priority by the city administrator’s office?” Terry Wiley, a former district attorney with Alameda County, calling for an investigation.
Along with calling for an investigation, the NAACP announced a 10-point plan that they believe will create a safer environment in Oakland.
The points include ensuring 911 centers are fully staffed, installing surveillance cameras and license plate readers, implementing community policing strategies, and increasing the staff of the Oakland PD to 1,000 officers. The plan also proposes rehiring of former police chief LeRonne Armstrong, who was dismissed in February by Mayor Sheng Thao over allegations of mishandling officer misconduct cases.
Chan told the audience that the city’s ongoing crime spree has prompted business closures, as workers and community feel unsafe, deterring them from supporting local businesses.
“It’s pretty sad to see that many businesses are suffering, along with people, whether they’re driving down on the street, carjacking or home invasion,” Chan said. “Many of our seniors are afraid of walking down our own streets, and it’s not right, it’s not fair.”
Because of these business closures, Chan announced plans for a one-day strike by Oakland’s small businesses to signal to the city that “enough is enough” and more action is needed against retail crime.
The panel also shared that Mayor Thao has repeatedly declined to meet with the NAACP Oakland chapter to discuss their concerns and proposed plans to combat the crimes in the city.
ABC7 reported that in a press conference at Oakland Airport on Monday, the mayor said she thinks it’s “utter BS” and “not true at all” that the city did not want to apply for the grant. She said that the city will be receiving 300 surveillance cameras from the governor’s office and are looking to start launching large drones to track down perpetrators, awaiting the FAA’s approval.
Adams concluded the press conference by demanding a statement and an apology from the mayor for neglecting to apply for a state grant that could have benefited the Oakland community.
“What is going on in Oakland is a civil rights issue,” Adams said. “The buck stops with the mayor. This is the mayor’s fault. We need to hear a statement, we need to hear an apology from the mayor for what she did to the citizens of Oakland.”