Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts said today that the city’s crime rate has decreased “significantly” this year. Batts said crime declined by 38 percent in January compared to the same period last year and by 27 percent in February and is down 34 percent so far this month. Batts also said there have been 16 homicides so far this year compared to 21 homicides at this time last year. The police chief’s comments came hours before the city recorded another homicide in a shooting at the intersection of Seminary Avenue and International Boulevard. At his monthly briefing with reporters, Batts said the homicide count “is too many but at least that number is moving in the right direction.” Batts, who became chief in October after heading the police department in Long Beach, said he has increased his patrol staff by 30 officers by moving those officers from desk jobs to the streets. The chief said the department’s resources are strained because of the city’s budget problems and he decided that he needed to increase the number of officers on the streets to increase the department’s fight against gang-related violence and improve its response time to 911 calls. Oakland residents said in a recent survey that those two items were the biggest concerns, Batts said. Joining Batts at the briefing, Assistant Police Chief Howard Jordan said the department is beginning to train new officers to replace officers who are retiring at the rate of four or five a month. The department’s authorized strength is 803 officers and it currently has 776 officers. Jordan said training classes for brand new officers as well as for officers who are moving to Oakland from other police departments will leave the department with about 753 officers at the end of the year.Batts said he hopes to have a training class for a large group of new officers next January but hasn’t yet met with the Oakland City Council to figure out how the class would be funded, giving the city’s projected $35 million budget shortfall. He said he’s bracing for the possibility that he might have to lay off some officers if the City Council decides to make cuts to all of the city’s departments to try to balance the city’s budget. “The Police Department is the largest part of the city’s budget and personnel costs are the biggest expense so I would have to pull officers off the street,” Batts said.Asked about one of the city’s most publicized possible crimes, Batts said the investigation into the disappearance of Hasanni Campbell more than seven months ago “continues to be a priority” for the department. Batts said, “There are some leads we’re following up on and I hope they lead to a conclusion soon.” Deputy Chief Jeffrey Israel said the department recently partnered with the Alameda County sheriff’s search and rescue team to try to find Hasanni, who has cerebral palsy, but was unable to locate him. Israel declined to say what area was searched. Previously there were several other unsuccessful searches for Hasanni. Some were conducted by law enforcement officials and some were conducted by volunteers. Hasanni was 5 years old at the time he was reported missing from the parking lot of Shuz of Rockridge in the 600 block of College Avenue in Oakland at about 4:15 p.m. on Aug. 10 and his sixth birthday was Sept. 24. Hasanni lived in Fremont with his foster parents, Louis Ross and Jennifer Campbell, and another child. Oakland police arrested Ross and Campbell on Aug. 28 but the Alameda County District Attorney’s office said several days later that it wouldn’t file charges against them because of insufficient evidence. In early January, Ross and Campbell moved out of the Fremont home where they had been living.
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