From: Jordan, HowardThis is the Oakland Police Chief’s now-infamous email to the mayor’s office regarding a large drop in the weekly crime rate, at the same time the city was claiming the Occupy encampment was causing a spike in crime. This email is damning in itself, because it implies the city knowingly invented a false excuse for its violent eviction of Occupy Oakland on October 25th.
Sent: Monday, October 31, 2011 12:13 PM
To: Harmon, Reygan
Cc: Santana, Deanna; Orologas, Alexandra
Subject: FW: City of Oakland Weekly Crime Report: 24-30 Oct 2011
Fyi. Not sure how you want to share this GOOD news with MJQ. It may be counter to our statement that the Occupy Movement is negatively impacting crime in Oakland.
Howard A. Jordan
Interim Chief of Police
Oakland Police Department
But many within the movement have taken this email as evidence that the Occupy encampment was itself responsible for the drop in crime—while critics have suggested it was a statistical blip that had nothing to do with Occupy Oakland. To get a better view of the issue, we need to go beyond Jordan’s email—we need to look at the weekly crime rates before, during, and after the encampment, and how those rates compare to previous years. This can tell us whether the falling crime rate was a typical fluctuation or something more significant—but it can’t directly tell us the cause. For that I’ll add a few of my own observations as a longtime resident of downtown Oakland.
Source for crime data: oaklandnet.com
In this graph, the upper pink line tracks the previous three-year average crime rate for each week, while the lower blue line tracks the rate for 2011. As you can see, there’s quite a bit of fluctuation from week to week—but except for the duration of the encampment, the 2011 rate closely tracks the trend from previous years. Apart from the usual dip in September coming a week late, the up vs. down trend is a perfect match.
But the first four weeks of the Oakland Commune are a clear aberration. The normal trend in crime for October is virtually flat, but in 2011 those four weeks saw a cumulative 40% drop in crime. In fact, the fourth week—the week of the General Strike, with its notorious incidents of window-breaking and vandalism—was actually Oakland’s most crime-free week in all of 2011 (and possibly much longer—I only checked the stats through the beginning of the year).
But was Occupy Oakland really the cause of this precipitous drop in crime? Correlation doesn’t prove causation—but as a downtown resident, the cause was clear as night and day.
Oakland’s Central Business District, where the encampment was located, has a bit of a split personality. Aside from residences, the neighborhood is mostly government buildings, corporate offices, and upscale restaurants and shops that cater only to the professionals who work there during the day. But during evenings and weekends, nearly everything is shuttered and the streets are dominated by panhandlers and by gatherings of urban teenagers with little to do. Fighting, drug deals, and muggings are not uncommon after hours.
Occupy Oakland was undoubtedly an irritation for the professional weekday crowd, but for those of us who live here round the clock it was a revitalization. People who would normally drift aimlessly through the streets were instead drawn to the plaza for food, music, speeches, and engagement with activists. This was especially true after the first eviction attempt—when thousands of local residents like myself who had previously kept aloof from the movement came out to defend it from the police, and ended up participating in the General Assembly that voted for the general strike. Even outside the plaza, there was an infectious sense of camaraderie and common enterprise that encompassed all ages and demographics. I’ve lived in Oakland thirteen years and I’ve never felt safer among crowds of random strangers than I did in those days.
So what happened in the final week, when crime rose again to nearly the level it had been at before the encampment began? It wasn’t a fluke—I remember how the sense of shared safety and mutual trust evaporated from much of downtown over the course of that week—but I also remember why.
Shortly after the violent police crackdown that followed the first eviction, the mayor announced that OPD was moving officers out of downtown and would leave a “minimal police presence” near the encampment. At the time, I thought this was a bizarre overreaction: Occupy Oakland had had no issues with the police until the eviction. There seemed no reason not to return to the pre-eviction status quo, when Occupy Oakland had handled security within the plaza while OPD continued their normal patrols on the surrounding streets. What the new policy effectively did instead was create a no man’s land several blocks deep between the Oakland Commune and the OPD-patrolled areas surrounding it.
The General Strike saw a massive influx of new people to downtown, and many of them remained afterward—but some of them were clearly attracted not so much to the Oakland Commune as to the police-free zone outside it. While Occupy Oakland kept the plaza itself relatively safe, the aura of security in the surrounding streets disappeared. The murder of Kayode Ola Foster several days before the second eviction was a reflection of this: Foster (and one of his attackers) had arrived at the Commune following the strike; but the drug dispute that reportedly led to Foster’s death took place a block or so away from the plaza in the zone of “minimal police presence,” and Foster was killed while trying to return to the safety of the encampment. (I don’t mean to imply that the unpoliced areas descended into total lawless violence, either—it just returned to the Oakland norm. Foster’s death was only exceptional in contrast to the remarkably peaceful weeks that preceded it.)
In my view, the city created a small crime wave by pulling police out of parts of downtown beyond Occupy Oakland’s control. I don’t know if it was done intentionally—but the city’s embarrassment at the falling crime rate in earlier weeks (evident in Chief Jordan’s email) makes me wonder.