Worried about car break-ins, Oakland businesses call for more police action

Oakland community leaders and business owners concerned about an increase in vehicle break-ins, held a town hall meeting downtown Wednesday night to share stories and concerns with Oakland's police chief, district attorney's office and a city council member.

The Oakland Business Collective organized the meeting at Geoffrey's Inner Circle on 14th Street on behalf of many Black business owners who say they worry about the impact of the crimes on their establishments and ability to stay open.

Some people said they are seeing emboldened thieves breaking into vehicles in broad daylight even with witnesses around to see.

"I've had my car broken into three times," said Lulu Safi, the owner of Maya Hala Taqueria on 14th Street in downtown Oakland. Safi says she never keeps valuables in her vehicle, but it has tinted windows and thieves have smashed her windows three times in just the past year, looking for items. She says each break-in costs hundreds of dollars to repair and the loss of valuable time tending to her business.

"My car was parked here on 14th. And one of my customers said hey, your car is getting broken into. By the time I got out, they'd already driven off," said Safi.

Around the corner, "Philly" Quan of Oakland says he had car windows smashed three times in one week.

"I was riding around with 2 broken windows. And then look, I'm driving her car and next thing I know, they broke that window too," said Quan.

The problem prompted a town hall meeting Wednesday night hosted by the Oakland Business Collective.

"Every day you come in the morning and there's broken glass," said Geoffrey Pete, owner of Geoffrey's Inner Circle, "This is the African American Black business corridor and woo, my goodness it seems to be the target of pilfering and break-ins, robberies and almost with impunity."

"I'm not saying the police aren't doing their job, but if you look at what's happening and not happening, it's pretty easy to figure that a lot more can be done," said Tony Spires, of the Oakland Business Collective.

Derreck Johnson with Home of Chicken and Waffles says their customers have reported break-ins.

"Over 30 cars were broken into. And because of the lack of resources and lack of response, I feel like those committing these crimes feel like they're getting a free ticket," said Johnson.

Oakland Police Chief Leronne Armstrong says a big problem is a lack of staffing.

"Currently our staffing number is 695 officers. We are authorized for 792 but 55 of those positions were frozen in the city's budget process," said Chief Armstrong, "We're being asked to do so many things through our city but unfortunately we don't have enough resources to actually respond to all the needs of our community."

The chief says they are trying to find solutions.

"We are trying to offer overtime opportunities for our officers to come out on the weekends in particular," said Chief Armstrong.

The chief says it is important for victims of car break-ins to file a police report.  He says the reports help police return stolen items that are recovered and provides data points for police as they decide where to allocate resources.

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at jana.katsuyama@fox.com and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or ktvu.com.