Oakland police staffing and resources challenged amid string of violence

With a string of crimes across Oakland in 24 hours, new questions are being raised about police staffing and resources in the city.

Four homicides, several shootings, a carjacking, and reports of other violent crimes have pushed Oakland officers to the limit since Monday night.

"It is a tremendous strain," said Deputy Chief James Beere. "Obviously we try to manage our resources properly and appropriately as we can."

Oakland police said two veteran officers were also hurt by a drunk driver while working a crime scene Monday near Telegraph Avenue and 31st Street where two people were shot and killed.

It’s not the first time police have been overwhelmed. Last week, sideshows, shootings and a crash created a challenge for the department, which is critically understaffed.

Beere said the department is at least 45 officers short. Currently, it is authorized to have 726 officers but only has 681 positions filled.

But police leadership has said before it would like to see hundreds of more officers added to better protect the city.

"I live here in Oakland. I’m raising my kids here in Oakland," Beere said. "I would like to have that [higher] number of police officers to make sure my neighbors, my family and friends are all safe."

For now, Oakland police said 911 calls are triaged when several critical incidents arise. Violent calls are prioritized.

But property crimes, burglaries and other reports to police are low on the list, meaning officers won’t respond until they’re cleared from another call.

Law enforcement experts tell KTVU that is not unique to Oakland. They said it is a result of reduced officer retention rates attributed to low pay, increased scrutiny, and heavier workloads.

"Your job is understaffed but yet services still have to be provided," said Professor Keith Ross with John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "The reality is most of the rank and file are probably working 60 to 80 hours."

Oakland has stepped up training in hopes of increasing staffing. A group of cadets is set to graduate in October and four more academies are being planned for this fiscal year.

City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas said despite efforts to increase the number of police officers, the burden of emergency calls can’t fall solely on them.

"We have to focus our police resources on those violent crimes, and find alternatives to deal with the other volume of 911 calls that we have," she said. "We have to do better."

While strides are being made to separate calls, officials agree the major problem in the city is increasing gun violence.

Bas has stressed the importance of city, county, state and federal resources being prioritized to getting guns off the street in hopes of slowing the cycle of violent crime.

"It’s completely unacceptable," she said. "It means we have to focus and have all hands on deck."

The city has implemented its Oakland Ceasefire strategy aimed at reducing gang shootings and strengthening police and community relations.

Still, with Oakland’s population rising, police officials say the resources must grow, too.

"We’re going to be challenged to responding to calls," Beere said. "If we don’t have the appropriate numbers to reflect the population – we’re going to continue to struggle."

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at brooks.jarosz@fox.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @BrooksKTVU