'They don’t do anything:' Oakland businesses frustrated with police response to burglary surge
OAKLAND, Calif. - When Ali Shami got a call last month that his convenience store in West Oakland was burglarized, he called police and began cleaning up the mess.
But unlike the two other times he’s been hit in recent months, his expectations for how officers would handle the case were significantly lower.
"They don’t do anything," he told KTVU in a recent interview. "They just give us a report. They just throw the report under the door."
Cases like Shami’s are hardly outliers. KTVU spoke to several owners of convenience and grocery stores in underserved communities like West and East Oakland, who say they have been repeatedly burglarized and feel like police are disinterested in investigating the cases.
Their calls for authorities to do more come as Oakland is in the midst of a surge in store burglaries. Crime data from the city police department shows commercial burglaries went up 76% last year.
"I think the police should take a part in this and get serious about it because it’s going to get worse and worse," said Abdul Dabwan, who owns a shop in Oakland.
Oakland police have long said they prioritize violent crimes in progress over investigating property crimes. And as the city has simultaneously seen sharp increases in violence, like shootings and homicides, commercial burglaries take a back seat.
Oakland police often tell property crime victims to file police reports online.
But business owners who spoke to KTVU said even when officers respond to their shops, they’re not collecting physical evidence, like fingerprints, surveillance video or DNA.
When burglars ransacked 7th Street Food and Liquor last month, they left a crowbar behind and a bloody spot next to the door, owner Ahmed Abdullah told KTVU. Police never checked for prints or swabbed for DNA, he said.
"The criminals are getting away while the business owners are suffering," said Ali Albasiery with the Bay Area Small Merchants Chamber of Commerce. "We are taxpayers. We are business owners. We are the backbone of the city of Oakland."
Shami, meanwhile, has taken it upon himself to reduce his chances of being burglarized in the future.
His shop, Salam Market, is Halal and already does not sell cigarettes, tobacco or liquor. Video from the most recent break in shows a team of criminals force their way through his front door before going for the ATM.
His store was left in shambles.
"We’re tired of it," he said.
He’s since removed the ATM and placed a sign in the front window telling customers – and criminals – there’s no cash machine inside.
KTVU filed a public records request to figure out just how many of these cases Oakland police are solving – especially cases where victims are told to file police reports online.
But officials said they can’t search any of their records because of a recent ransomware attack that paralyzed their computers.
Oakland police would not go on camera, but in a statement officials said they identify crime patters and shift resources when necessary. They said they give the same level of attention to online reports as in-person reports.
But historically, Oakland police solve very few burglaries. According to the state Department of Justice, Oakland police solved just 1.5% of burglaries in 2021 – the year before cases surged.
And in other jurisdictions, online reports generally lead to very few arrests. In San Francisco, for example, police solved just 13 of the 81,000 of auto burglaries submitted online between 2011 and 2017.
"The police feel overwhelmed. They feel short-staffed, unsupported. But that doesn't negate your responsibility for doing a good quality job on the calls that you are dispatched to or that you're involved in," said Jeffrey Loman, a retired Oakland police captain who headed the criminal investigations division.
He said collecting physical evidence is crucial to connect criminals to multiple crimes and dismantle the larger organizations. Seeing the latest troubling spike, he said he wonders if police are striking the right balance with their resources.
"When the police department doesn't have an effective crime reduction strategy that is specifically targeting burglaries, it sends a message to would-be thieves that they can continue business without being without threat of being arrested, incarcerated or punished for any of their crimes," he said.
The break-ins have had a particularly devastating effect in areas where residents need fresh groceries and thriving businesses the most.
"We've tried for decades to get grocery stores and other kinds of convenience stores and good markets to come into West Oakland and East Oakland. And they come, they get robbed and they leave," said Greg McConnell, who owns a consulting business and has worked with developers and businesses for decades in Oakland.
He walked along 7th Street with KTVU recently, remarking on the large number of empty storefronts across from the West Oakland BART station in what should be a thriving business district. He said many of the shops closed after repeated break-ins.
"Every one of these storefronts that is closed down is a failure of the city," McConnell said. "It hurts. It hurts mostly the people that live in the neighborhood because they don't have services."
Albasiery -- with the Bay Area Small Merchants Chamber of Commerce – said most of the business owners he knows are taking a hard look at their bottom lines and wondering if they will be the next shops to shutter.
"Most of them are thinking about going out of business because of this," he said.
Evan Sernoffsky is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email Evan at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EvanSernoffsky