Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong is pleading with the Alameda County Superior Court to end the pandemic-era loosening of bail fees, saying this is responsible for an alleged Oakland crime spike.
Early in this pandemic era, a number of California counties eliminated bail for misdemeanors and low-level offenses, in order to reduce jail populations and stop the spread of COVID-19. Now two-plus years into the pandemic, about 75% of California counties still have these reduced bail schedules in effect.
One of these counties is Alameda County, which the city of Oakland calls home. And KTVU reports that Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong is urging the Alameda County Superior Court to end the reduced bail schedule, claiming it is responsible for a crime spike in Oakland.
The above video segment leads with “This is the sound of gunshots fired on 85th Avenue in East Oakland, recorded by Shotspotter.” Shotspotter is an audio gunfire detection tool used by law enforcement, and has had accuracy issues reported, but sure, this does sound like gunshots. “Police say the shots were fired by a parolee last September who was prohibited from having a gun,” the reports adds. (So, the example is six months old?)
Still, Chief Armstrong argues that the time for COVID-era lenient bail is over, saying it has led to increased crime. "We are impacted the greatest of any city in Alameda County when it comes to people being released back into our community on bail to commit crimes again," Armstrong told KTVU.
This being a Bay Area local TV news report on crime, it is long on hysteria and “the worst I've ever seen” quotes, but short on analysis of the actual changes to the bail system, or statistics that back up or refute any claims of crime increases. So let’s consider these factors!
At today's Oakland City Council Public Safety Committee meeting, elected officials and police claimed that zero bail policies are still allowing violent people arrested on gun charges to get out of jail free.— Darwin BondGraham (@DarwinBondGraha) April 12, 2022
Looking at the current bail schedule, this is false. pic.twitter.com/F6zwUTs1IU
The current Alameda County bail schedule changes are referred to in shorthand as “zero bail,” but they do not eliminate bail completely. There is an exemption that eliminates “firearm-related offenses from the Court’s ‘zero bail’ schedule," and nearly all felonies still require bail. That said, a good attorney can often plead down felony and gun charges, so it is quite probable that bail, on average, bail is generally lower in Alameda County court these days.
Is crime really up in Oakland, and “the worst we've ever seen?” Well, Oakland crime reporting tools are, sigh, a little less robust and user-friendly than San Francisco’s. But the Chronicle recently dug into Oakland crime data at the beginning of the year, and the charts are super-illuminating. It’s a mixed bag. Robbery rates have been flat for years, and misdemeanor assault is somewhat down, but homicide and felony assault are way up. Those are crime stats that should not be affected by reduced pandemic bail. But of course a plucky attorney can make charges, shall we say, “fluid.”
Armstrong does have high-profile cases that make a lot of headlines to worry about. Notably, Barbara Boxer got mugged in Oakland last summer, a KRON4 security guard was shot and killed in November, and three of the suspects in the Twin Peaks film crew robbery had been arrested days before in Oakland for an armed robbery.
It’s unclear whether those suspects were charged bail and paid it, or if they were able to plead down their armed robbery charges. But OPD chief LeRonne Armstrong is getting asked some difficult questions, and he says reduced bail is the real source of Oakland’s current crime woes.
Image: City of Oakland