Update: Newsom sends state lawyers to help Alameda County prosecute crimes in Oakland

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that he is sending state lawyers to help the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office prosecute crimes, particularly violent, drug, and property crimes in Oakland.

The announcement comes on the heels of Newsom’s decision to send 120 California Highway Patrol officers to Oakland as part of a so-called “law enforcement surge operation.”

In addition to the CHP officers, lawyers from the California Department of Justice and the California National Guard will now work in cooperation with county prosecutors focused on violent, property and some drug crimes, Newsom said in a news release Thursday.

“I welcome the support from the Governor in this fight against organized retail crime and the scourge of Fentanyl in our community,” said Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price. “I am assigning Alameda County career prosecutor Assistant DA Michael Nieto to represent my office in this collaborative effort.”

The governor’s office said that crime statistics from Oakland show that violent crime rose 21 percent in 2023 compared to the previous year, while robberies increased by 38 percent and vehicle theft rose by 45 percent.

On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the deployment of 120 California Highway Patrol officers to enact a temporary enforcement surge in Oakland and neighboring areas.

“As crime rates across California decrease — including right across the Bay in San Francisco — Oakland is seeing the opposite trend. What’s happening in this beautiful city and surrounding area is alarming and unacceptable,” Newsom said in a statement published Tuesday on the Office of the Governor’s website. “I’m sending the California Highway Patrol to assist local efforts to restore a sense of safety that the hardworking people of Oakland and the East Bay demand and deserve.”

“Throughout the operation, the CHP’s efforts will include enforcement of auto theft, cargo theft, retail crime, and high-visibility proactive traffic enforcement in and around Oakland and Alameda County,” said CHP spokesperson Jaime Coffee.

The strategy is to saturate the area with officers and investigators who will work with other law enforcement agencies within Alameda County.

“This will include CHP specialty units like narcotics-detecting K9 units and air support,” Coffee said. “CHP will also deploy license plate reader technology to detect and recover stolen vehicles.”

The move follows calls for state help from local organizations and politicians including the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao. In January, a group of Oakland community leaders traveled to Sacramento and met with the governor in person.

According to a recent Oakland Police Department crime report, between 2021 and 2023 there was a 21 percent increase in violent crime, a 38 percent increase in robberies and a 45 percent increase in vehicle thefts.

In September, the Newsom administration approved the distribution of over $267 million to local police and sheriff’s departments and district attorney’s offices throughout California to fight organized retail theft. The money went to create task forces, hire and train staff and purchase new technologies. There were 55 awardees, but Oakland received no funds because it missed the application deadline.

“The governor brought that up one, two, three times,” said Robert Harris of the Oakland NAACP, who was also at the January meeting. “He talked about the missed deadline, and then about 10 minutes later he said the same thing over, ‘We’ve made that available to you, and you didn’t file.'”

In the governor’s Tuesday statement about the surge, Mayor Sheng Thao expressed gratitude.

“The City of Oakland is hard at work turning the tide — increasing law enforcement investigations, increasing police recruitment, and investing in community and violence intervention efforts,” Thao said in a prepared statement. “I’m grateful for Governor Newsom for providing these critical law enforcement resources that are a game-changer in helping us hold more criminals accountable and make Oakland safer.”

The governor’s statement Tuesday listed additional measures his administration is planning or has already enacted. Some of them echoed the solutions proposed by the Oakland NAACP and community leaders in a plan they have been promoting for months.

“The state has also expanded opportunities for youth by transforming Oakland’s schools into community schools, mandating and funding after-school programs, awarding Oakland grants for youth coaches, establishing targeted college and career savings accounts, and providing tuition-free community college for students at Oakland community colleges,” the statement read.

Since 2019, the governor’s office said, Alameda County has received over $1 billion from the state to boost affordable housing and over $200 million to address homelessness directly.

“We can see that the governor was very serious about what he was saying and he’s delivering on what he said,” said Bishop Bob Jackson, senior pastor of Acts Full Gospel Church. “He really cares about Oakland, and we were really glad about that.”

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