OAKLAND — According to the latest crime statistics from Oakland police, robberies are up 22% compared to this same time last year, and among the victims are utility crews.
The crews are being targeted mainly for their tools.
Deanna Tibbs owns jigsaw puzzle manufacturer and retail store Oakland Puzzle Company. On Wednesday morning, she was concerned when she saw an Oakland police squad car parked in front of her building.
"I brought my daughter to work today, and I went up to them and I said, 'Is there something going on? Because I want to make sure it's safe before my daughter gets out of the car,'" said Tibbs.
But the police officer wasn't on duty. He's working overtime paid for by PG&E to provide security for the crew doing maintenance on an underground gas line at East 10th Street and 6th Avenue.
"We don't want to be in a situation where folks don't have basic utilities because we're unable to provide an umbrella of protection for PG&E to fix a problem," said Barry Donelan, the president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, the union that represents OPD officers.
He says PG&E started hiring off duty Oakland police officers in November of last year after a number of utility crews were robbed at gunpoint – thieves demanding the crews hand over their tools and personal items like cell phones and wallets.
"It's sad that we're in this situation. This should be a clarion call to city officials that we have got significant challenges around public safety in Oakland," explained Donelan.
According to OPD, PG&E pays for 24-hour protection for their gas and electric crews.
There are up to eight off-duty officers assigned to PG&E each day, with each officer working an 8 hour shift at a cost of $100.88 per hour.
That adds up to a tab of more than $6,000 dollars per day, more than half a million dollars per year PG&E has to pay for the added protection. The question now is will it be customers who have to pay for it in the end?
"Obviously really upsetting that crime is so bad here that PG&E workers are at risk," said Tibbs.
A representative from the union that represents PG&E workers says, while Oakland is the only city where the company is paying off-duty officers for protection, if it works, they might look at doing it in other cities where crews have been robbed like Richmond and San Francisco.
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