Consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in the nation, the City of Oakland has long been plagued with skyrocketing crime rates.
According to federal statistics, Oakland has one robbery for every 91 residents. The SF Gate reports that this translates to almost 12 robberies a day. And given the fact that the city has fell victim to 3,800 robberies to date in 2013—a 24% jump from last year at this time—this year is shaping up to be a lot worse, leading some community groups to resort to crowdsourcing initiatives in order to fund private security details for their neighborhoods.
The neighborhood of Rockridge is located in the Northern part of Oakland. Its collection of large homes nestled in the hills is known for being one of the wealthiest areas in the city.
Lower Rockridge, however, is middle-class neighborhood located just north of Highway 24. Its proximity to both several freeway onramps and a BART station positions it as a prime target for muggings and robberies.
“Enough is enough,” remarked campaign organizer Paul Liu in the CrowdTilt description. “The crime in lower Rockridge north and west of the Rockridge BART station is completely out of hand.”
Proceeds from the initiative will go towards hiring the VMA Security Group who will patrol from 11am to 11pm, Monday thru Friday starting November 1. The fundraising campaign has already amassed over $12,550 of its $20,513 goal within a week of its inception, securing VMA through February of next year. Over 131 individual sponsors have donated thus far at or above the minimum $82.05 contribution.
A Neighborhood United
A native of the East Coast, Victoria Bogdan and her fiancé moved to Oakland’s Lower Rockridge from San Francisco a few years ago. When asked about her experience, she responded that it has been “mixed.”
Citing the neighborhood’s character, beauty, charm and array of diverse, interesting and caring neighbors, Bogdan cherishes her neighborhood, save for it being a hotbed for criminal activity.
Within the past 30 days, there have been 21 muggings in Bogdan’s neighborhood alone.
Bogdan has witnessed her fair share of crime in Lower Rockridge. While in flight from the cops, a perpetrator once ended up in the backyard of Bogdan’s home.
Caught between the crossfire of two competing drug dealers, a neighborhood car across the street from her home was filled to the brim with lead. Windows were shattered and bullet holes adorned the exterior. For Bogdan and her neighbors, the car served as a daily and sullen reminder of Oakland’s dismal state of public safety before it was removed a week later.
“We have definitely become quite adept at distinguishing the sound of gunshots from fireworks,” remarked Bogdan.
The threat of robberies and muggings has integrated itself into her daily routine. Though the BART station is but a half mile walk away from their house, Bogdan and her fiancé have calculated that walking poses too much of a risk and now bike the short distance daily in hopes that it will deter criminals.
When asked whether raising a family would be of concern in Rockridge, Bogdan replied that it is a bit of a worry to her and her fiancé. They have watched young families pick up and leave the neighborhood time and time again.
Even in light of the neighborhood’s rising crime, Bogdan wanted to commend her community for how well they have come together. The crowdsourcing initiative is but one example of the neighborhood’s collective effort to stymie criminal activity.
Bogdan and her neighbors maintain a private online network where they post crime alerts and share instances of suspicious activity that take place in neighborhood; a kind of virtual neighborhood watch. They host block parties and nights out in Rockridge’s business district to let perpetrators know that people actually reside, work and live their lives in Lower Rockridge. The neighborhood association and its residents are in constant contact with their council representative, Councilman Dan Kalb who also lives in Rockridge.
“Our neighbors have really come together in light of our situation and learned to depend on each other,” stated Bogdan. “It is remarkable to see how people have adapted to their circumstances so quickly.”
Benjamin Katz, a tech entrepreneur from San Diego, is a former resident of Oakland who has a number of friends who live in Lower Rockridge. His parents and brother still live in Oakland and despite having been out of the city for 20 years, he feels a connection to his hometown.
Katz’ friends moved to Rockridge from San Diego a year ago and have since had their house broken into three or four times. It pains him to hear about how the crime situation has “spiraled out of control.”
“Oakland is a great town with great culture and really phenomenal people but it has never been the nicest town from a safety standpoint,” stated Katz. “I would have to look at hard data but I don’t remember stories like this when I was a kid.”
A Citywide Struggle
Chris Jackson is the Operations Manager for the Rockridge District Association, where he oversees security for the business district that neighbors Lower Rockridge. Jackson is heavily involved with the Greater Rockridge Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council and is in communication with the OPD Captain on a daily basis.
Jackson believes that because penalties for drugs, prostitution and pimping are so stringent, muggings and robberies are on the rise.
“It’s much easier just to steal items off of passersby,” said Jackson. “That way these perpetrators aren’t going against another pimp or drug deals.”
Jackson also attributes the skyrocketing crime rates to Oakland’s dramatically-reduced police force.
In March of this year, the Oakland Police Department reported a staff of 611 officers—the lowest staffing level in 17 years. This is a sharp decline from just five years ago, when the City boasted a staff of over 800 officers.
When reached for public comment, OPD public information officer Sylvia McDaniel stated, “We recognize that neighborhoods have the option to contract with private security companies. We are committed to communicating and partnering with residents and the security companies operating within the city to address and enhance public safety.”
The CrowdTilt initiative has 22 days left in its campaign. People who reside outside of Lower Rockridge are welcome to give but will so knowing that security detail is limited to the identified area.