In a year that saw its overall crime rate dip significantly, Oakland finished 2018 with 68 murders, its lowest total since 62 in 1999.
In all there were 75 homicides, with the other seven falling into the categories of “justifiable” or “self-defense.”
Oakland wasn’t the only East Bay city that saw crime go down in 2018. Significant gang arrests and convictions throughout the region over the past two years seemed to put a dent in major crimes almost everywhere.
Major crimes fell 16 percent from 2017 in Berkeley, the most dramatic drop in a year that also saw them go down in Richmond by 3 percent and San Leandro by 1 percent through Oct. 30. Major crimes ticked up only slightly in Antioch — .05 percent through Nov. 30 — although that city had seen it drop 48 percent since 2013.
Richmond entered the final weekend of the year with 15 homicides, three more than a year ago, but significantly down from the 21 in 2015 and 2016. It also went the first three months without one, part of a nearly five-month stretch without a killing that started in 2017, the longest in the city’s recorded history.
Homicides also were down in Antioch, with the ledger showing seven, the fewest since 2015. Berkeley went without a homicide after having one in 2017.
In Oakland, Anne E. Kirkpatrick set the bar high when she laid out her ultimate mission as the city’s new police chief in February 2017. She wanted the team she was brought in to lead to become the “best police department in the country.”
Twenty-two months into her tenure, the city seems headed in the right direction.
Despite the downturn in the murder rate, there’s no reason to celebrate, Kirkpatrick said.
“Every number is a human life lost,” the chief said. “I remain committed to reducing gun violence in the city of Oakland.”
In a statement, Mayor Libby Schaaf said “making Oakland a safe city has been a community-led movement.”
“Undoing the cycles of gun violence has taken time and resilience,” Schaaf said. “We have much more work to do, but I am excited that all families in Oakland live in a far safer community than they did just five years ago.”
Overall, the city’s major crime rate also fell, 11 percent from 2017. Non-fatal shootings, robberies and burglaries all decreased too, the latter by 22 percent. There also were 31 percent fewer rapes and 28 fewer aggravated assaults.
How much of it is a regional-wide trend versus police work?
“The good news is that the trend continues to go down,” Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown said. “That’s an encouraging message for the public, because the public always are going to play a role in the cause of creating safety for everybody. The more they feel safe, the more likely they are to help police to keep them that way.”
In sharp contrast, property crime took a leap in cities throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties, especially auto burglaries.
“Auto burglary remains a significant problem,” Fremont police spokeswoman Geneva Bosques said, speaking for her city but also summing up an area problem. “It’s a low-risk, high-reward proposition for the burglars. The crime takes mere seconds to commit. There is little danger since the victims are eating or shopping when it’s occurring.”
Not in every case, however. In Concord, police saw a disturbing trend build during the holiday season in which suspects greeted victims from inside the vehicle.
The suspect in that crime remains on the loose, but authorities in Contra Costa County teamed to stop a serial arsonist who started blazes in Antioch, Pittsburg, Concord, Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Brentwood, Martinez and Pleasant Hill.
In December, a jury convicted Pittsburg resident James Bishop III of 38 counts of arson in what fire investigation supervisor Capt. George Laing called “the biggest case we’ve ever seen in this jurisdiction. To have it turn out this way is probably the biggest success we’ve ever had.”
Oakland police, helped by federal authorities, also enjoyed a success story in November, when they arrested 45-year-old Dustin Bellinger in November on suspicion of setting at least one of the arson fires.
It was one of the victories for Kirkpatrick’s department in her first full calendar year at the helm. Another was keeping controversies and scandals from swirling around the police department.
More than 18 months have passed since an underage sex scandal enveloped officers within the Oakland Police Department — as well as the Richmond, San Francisco and Livermore police departments and the Alameda County and Contra Costa County sheriff’s offices. The city settled with the admitted underage sex worker from Richmond for $989,000 in May 2017. No new scandals have developed since then.
Enacting reform and rebuilding the department’s trust also landed in Kirkpatrick’s list of to-do’s when she took over.
The department remains under federal oversight since 2003 because of the Riders scandal, in which rogue officers known as “Riders” were accused of beating up and planting drugs on West Oakland residents.
“We will continue our relationship building with the community to earn trust,” Kirkpatrick said.
“We’ll direct our resources such as ceasefire teams and law enforcement partners like FBI to reduce violence and solve crime,” she added. “The OPD is committed to saving lives and serving the community.”