The National Crime Prevention Council mourns the loss of four police officers in the shooting tragedy that unfolded recently in Oakland, CA. Sergeants Mark Dunakin, Erv Romans, Daniel Sakai, and Officer John Hege were lost in the line of duty defending the safety of the people of Oakland, the safety that all of us, in communities across the country, depend on and, all too often, take for granted. The loss of these officers was the most in one day since the September 11th attacks.
What caused this tragedy? Were there warning signs or other indicators that could have alerted us to the extreme danger the shooter represented? Were there systems and practices in place that would have tipped us off to the possibility of a tragedy occurring? The gunman, recently released from prison for violating a previous parole, was monitored by a parole officer whose caseload was 70 parolees, well above the American Parole and Probation Association’s recommended ratio of 50 cases per parole offer. Seven thousand parolees return to Alameda County, in which Oakland is situated, each year, all needing services, counseling, a job, and hope.
In the United States, more than 5.1 million adult men and women are supervised in the community, either on probation or parole. Every year more than 700,000 previously incarcerated persons return to their communities. The situation is exacerbated by the often unproductive time spent by inmates when they are behind bars, the drain on communities while its inhabitants are incarcerated, and the inability of communities and systems to re-integrate ex-offenders upon their eventual return.
"California's parole population is now so large and its parole agents are so overburdened that parolees who represent a serious public safety threat are not watched closely," a National Institute of Justice-funded report released last year, and quoted in the Oakland Tribune, states. "And those who wish to go straight cannot get the help they need."
Some people knew that the gunman had recently obtained a gun (in violation of his parole), but did nothing with that information. Crime prevention is not the responsibility of law enforcement, or corrections, or the National Crime Prevention Council alone. It takes a community working together to keep itself safe.
This time of mourning must also be a time of learning.