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CURRENT ISSUE:  February 20, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 4Oakland, CA

East Oakland parish confronts crime in its neighborhood

A community meeting to demand more police protection in the vicinity of St. Louis Bertrand Parish took on added urgency earlier this month when the Oakland church became the victim of a break-in burglary the day of the gathering.

The parish janitor discovered the crime the morning of Feb. 6. Thieves had broken the door to the main office of the rectory and made off with three computers and a telephone. They also trashed the office of Father Tony Valdivia, St. Louis Bertrand pastor.

“Any break-in just makes you feel violated,” said Father Valdivia. “It happened to us as it happens to so many of our people here in our area.”

He added, “It was so coincidental the break-in took place the day of our meeting.”

The parish local organizing committee of Oakland Community Organizations had arranged to co-sponsor the action with the International Boulevard Merchant Association and Monarch Elementary School, a charter school of the Oakland Unified School District located next to the parish.

Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker, Andrew Gomez, district administrator of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and various city officials attended the event, which addressed the issue of crime in the neighborhood. The meeting was bilingual, in English and Spanish.

Father Valdivia told the crowd of some 300 people gathered in Monarch School that they had come to seek commitments from the invited officials – to close a local liquor store, to assign a police officer to work with the community and another on permanent foot patrol, to increase vice squad patrols and to install a flashing yellow light and security cameras on International Boulevard.

Maricela Martinez, St. Louis Bertrand parishioner and a Monarch School parent, testified of the dangers to children in particular, saying that her child had poked his finger with a syringe found on the street. Tatiana Epanchin, Monarch principal, spoke of drug dealing and other illicit activities that take place in front of the children.

OCO leaders also presented slides and data showing that the area around St. Louis Bertrand suffers from the highest crime rate in the city.

Addressing his remarks to Chief Tucker, Frank Davis of Allen Temple Baptist Church said that the community had worked hard in November 2004 to pass Measure Y, a provision that sets aside $19 million annually to address the problems of crime and violence in Oakland. A portion of the funds is to support 63 community police officers.

“We worked to tax ourselves through Measure Y,” Davis said, “to give you more resources so we could have police who would work with us directly. But things are not getting better. We daily witness prostitution, drug dealers, loitering.” He asked when the neighborhood would have a “dedicated police officer in this beat.”

Chief Tucker responded by saying that he would increase the vice squad presence on International Boulevard and assign more officers to community policing as recruits graduate from the police academy. These officers work neighborhood beats and collaborate with residents on specific problems. He agreed to consider adding a walking patrol officer.

The effort to close the liquor store will be more difficult, according to Father Valdivia, because Alcoholic Beverage Control “does not like to recall licenses that it has given.” But Gomez agreed to investigate conditions at the store, and Oakland police Sgt. Robert Crawford, who attended the meeting, said his alcoholic beverage abatement team can cite liquor stores under laws against loitering and litter.

“We’re going to have to do some work with ABC,” Father Valdivia said.

Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid, chair of the council public safety committee, arrived after the meeting had been adjourned, but a group of OCO leaders spoke with him then. Reid agreed to have a flashing light installed at the intersection of 100th Avenue and International Boulevard.

Jesus Rodriguez, OCO organizer, said the residents “feel great about the meeting,” because of the response from Chief Tucker. They are deeply concerned, he said, “because prostitution is 24-7 around the church” and “the kids in school see this.”

The meeting was also helpful, Father Valdivia said, because Chief Tucker “is new and he got to see a large segment of the Hispanic community and their concerns.”

It is important to follow up on the meeting, Father Valdivia said, adding, “We have homework to do.”

Ron Snyder, OCO executive director, said the leaders will continue to meet with the officials to see what progress they have made on their commitments. If necessary, the community could hold another action meeting, he said.

Father Tony Valdivia’s office was trashed during a burglary the morning of the organizing meeting.

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