There are words that newspaper readers usually do not want to see as they are learning about a dangerous spate of local crimes. On the top of that list would be this quote, which appeared in Wednesday's Chronicle by Oakland Deputy Police Chief Dave Kozicki, in response to a rash of robberies of Oakland restaurants that affected staff and patrons alike: "Right now, it's pretty clear we are in a time of increased crime. But the bottom line is we believe we cannot arrest our way out of these problems."
To which Oakland City Councilwoman Pat Kernighan smartly riposted, "Well, you sure better try. We all have our jobs to do, and your job is to arrest people."
Fortunately, it turns out, Kozicki's rhetoric was just that, rhetoric. On the day he made that ill-timed remark, Oakland police made their first arrest in the heists. As of Thursday, police held two of four suspects, after what the department described as intense police work to end a crime spree that has left many Oakland residents worried, anxious and angry.
Citizens have begun to fight back. Recently an Oakland resident, a shop owner and a market clerk shot at men whom they believed were trying to rob them. Authorities do not see these incidents as vigilantism. As Oakland Police spokesman Roland Holmgren told The Chronicle, "I don't think they are taking the law into their own hands. I think they're doing their God-given right, which is to defend themselves and their property."
There is much that is misguided about this opinion.
Arrests do matter when they are carefully targeted at suspects produced by reliable investigatory techniques. However, when they are produced in the kind of classic crackdown on poor neighborhoods that the political and editorial tirades we have seen of late usually lead to they produce miscarriages of justice and less security. Once the jails are full of the "usual suspect," snitches and high risk interrogation tactics can produce the convictable defendants so satisfying to editorial writers, ---- but also wrongful convictions and scores of collateral casualties (whose repeated contacts with the jail population surely encourages more real crime).
The fact that residents are "worried, anxious, and angry" does not mean they will be better off when governments in response to these worries produce ineffective but heavy handed symbolic gestures, or haven't you visited an airport lately (please place your three once liquid containers, along with your shoes, belt and jacket into the bins ...).
"Residents are beginning to fight back...." The Chron has had a thing for citizens shooting back for some time. There is no evidence that this reduces crime but it is surely likely to get someone killed. Whats next, the return of the Committee of Vigilance (an elite lynch mob that mixed summary trial and hangings with intonations about law in San Francisco in the 1850s)?