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Oakland Hoping Reducing Drug Sales Will Curb Violence

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- Getting rid of open-air drug sales will reduce violence—particularly in Oakland, which recently hired a consultant known for adopting that tactic as New York City's top cop, a University of California at Berkeley law professor said Monday.

William Bratton, who has served as police commissioner in New York City and Boston and as police chief in Los Angeles, was the topic of a lecture by professor Frank Zimring at a law enforcement symposium Monday at the University of San Francisco.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and Police Chief Howard Jordan announced late last month that the city was hiring Bratton as a consultant. In 2012, Oakland experienced its highest homicide rate in five years.

Zimring wrote a book about how New York City reduced its murder rate by more than 80 percent between 1990 and 2009 -- a period that included Bratton's tenure as police commissioner.

Bratton was an early adopter of the CompStat crime-tracking program, and his focus on shutting down street drug deals helped lower New York City's violent crime rates, Zimring said.

The professor said the locations of public drug sales tend to be "the hottest of what police call hot spots" of violence, particularly between warring drug dealers who fight for turf.

The CompStat program, among other benefits, helps increase accountability by allowing top police officials to track neighborhood crimes as closely as the captains in charge of each district of a city, Zimring said.

Jordan, Oakland's police chief, said in the Dec. 27 news conference announcing Bratton's contract with the city that he was returning the department to a neighborhood-policing approach and making district captains responsible for fighting crime in specific areas.

But Zimring said that in order for Bratton to help Oakland, the city's top officials—from Quan and Jordan to the police union and an outside compliance director ordered by a federal judge to oversee the Police Department—all have to be on the same page.

"One of the things the consultant has got to say on Day One is 'Let's get the choir singing together,' or this is going to be hopeless," Zimring said.

He said the targeting of outdoor drug sales by police "certainly is something they've had as a goal" in Oakland, but is not necessarily something that has been highly prioritized by the department.

He also noted that while New York City was able to add police officers to its department during the time when its crime rate decreased, Oakland has dealt with budget cuts and a reduced police force in recent years.

The USF symposium, titled "Narcotics: Examining Leadership Strategies," is attended by police chiefs from throughout the state and continues today with a lecture by an expert on Mexican drug cartels.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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