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Oakland Police Academy graduates first class in four years

March 22, 2013|By Lee Romney
  • A SWAT team from the Oakland Police Department leaves the scene of an April 2012 shooting at Oikos University in Oakland.
A SWAT team from the Oakland Police Department leaves the scene of an April… (Gary Reyes / MCT )

OAKLAND -- Amid raucous cheers from family members, Oakland’s strapped Police Department on Friday welcomed 38 new officers to the force -- marking the first graduating academy class in four years.

The ceremony comes as the department’s number of sworn officers has plummeted from 809 to 611 over the last four years, a drop that marks the lowest staffing levels in a decade.

As in other cities, the reductions came as a result of recession-era hiring freezes combined with attrition. But Oakland’s challenges were exacerbated by an already-high crime rate that recently has soared: Violent crime rose 23% in 2012 over the previous year, and burglaries climbed by 43%.

The department also is struggling to comply with a decade-old federal court settlement regarding police brutality and racial profiling that has called for an overhaul of its approach to policing.

In comments to the new officers, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan noted that they would be hosted on their beats by community-based organizations – a first for the city – in an effort to stress collaboration and rebuild trust.

An outside consulting team hired by the city has been holding community meetings, and Quan told the officers that residents would like them to “stop and say ‘hello’ ... and they want you to smile.”

She suggested, presumably in jest, a quota of 10 smiles per day, saying, “We are in the process of making community policing real."

Police Chief Howard Jordan, who inspected each officer’s weapon and pinned on each badge, noted that it had been “four years, three months, 28 days and 10 hours” since the previous academy class graduated.

He called the new officers' task “a very tough job in a very tough city,” and said the mere presence of the trainees over the last six months “has motivated our department.”

The next academy session begins Monday.

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Twitter @leeromney

lee.romney@latimes.com

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