Oakland officials ask for help in solving recent homicides

OAKLAND — At an afternoon press conference at police headquarters, Oakland police representatives joined a city councilman and victims of unsolved homicides to ask for community members’ help with recent violent crimes, including two high-profile killings.

“I thought it was important that you not just hear from me, but that you hear from families, that you see the impact of the violence that you know when someone loses their life, that they leave behind people who care, people who hurt,” Oakland police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said.

After noting that the city was seeing its highest number of homicides since 2013 and that officers had already arrested 40 homicide suspects and recovered more than 900 guns this year, Armstrong offered condolences to the family of Dirk Tillotson, fatally shot Friday alongside his injured wife during a home-invasion robbery in the city’s Maxwell Park neighborhood, and to two victims of a robbery-turned-shooting that claimed a young woman’s life early Sunday in the Clinton neighborhood.

Homicide detective Lt. Fred Shavies followed Armstrong to appeal for information from witnesses, as well as any possible surveillance-camera footage from residents or business owners between Foothill and International boulevards from 10th to 16th avenues.

City Councilman Loren Taylor, who serves Oakland’s District 6, remembered Tillotson’s impact on educational equity issues in the city and beyond.

“I feel a responsibility to get to the bottom of this and ensure that we are able to not just hold the perpetrators of this crime accountable, but fulfill the legacy and the mission that he stood for,” Taylor said in part.

“My heart goes out to Derek’s entire family, and all who are impacted by his loss. And it is vital that we come together and do what we can to further his legacy.”

Brenda Grisham, executive director of the Christopher LaVell Jones Foundation, took pains to distinguish the importance of community involvement in taking on violence. “In 2010, my son was murdered here in the city of Oakland,” Grisham said in part. “Each and every life of the whole 106 that we have lost as of today have mothers and fathers, they are hurting. Homicide has nothing to play with is a long-term effect.

“But the second thing is the people that are committing the crimes have mothers and fathers also,” she added. “It is a plea that we have, because you don’t want to be in the same position that we are: missing our sons, missing our daughters, our brothers and our sisters. Get your children if you need help, if they’re doing things and you need help. There are a lot of organizations out there that can provide mentorship.”

In follow-up questions, Grisham said she drew on her own experience working with the city’s Department of Violence Prevention to drive home the stakes of outreach.

“I dove right into it after my son was murdered, because he was a well-known young man here in Oakland. I feel that if there were more things out there, we could kind of curb some of these models. And secondly, unfortunately, my son’s case is not solved. Some of these killers are repeat offenders. If they were in jail for the first time, they wouldn’t be able to kill anybody else. You know, so we got to look toward those avenues.”

Answering questions from reporters, Armstrong described an embattled but resolved department working to shift resources demanded not only by recent and ongoing high-profile violence.

On the Tillotson case, Armstrong declined to cite specifics “while the investigation is still open” but added “we do believe that those individuals came specifically to that residence. They did not impact other residences.

“There are some motives that we’re looking into that I can’t discuss today with you, but we do have a couple of angles that we’re looking at, none of which we think should have led to his death […] that we think could be a contributor to what might have been the focus of somebody on his residence.”

In response to one question from The Oaklandside about police staffing, he said the department was at 695 officers, but had received 10 resignation notices in the month’s first four days:

“We have increased staffing in the homicide division, because at 106 homicides, we clearly needed additional investigators. We moved six additional investigators over to our homicide section, but they’ve also experienced a couple of retirements there. So they have around 13, 14 investigators: five more investigators than we had about a month ago,” Armstrong said, adding later that he knew of no departures related to COVID-19.

In a follow-up about crime-lab and evidence technician staffing, he acknowledged some retirements and resignations. “We do have a certain attrition number that we expect, but the difficulty for us is that attrition number for the last two years has hovered around five. That attrition number over the last five months has jumped to 10 in this month, and we are expecting that and maybe even higher. […] We have over 50 officers that have left the department in the last six months.”

That would likely mean drawing on federal and state-level partnerships, field roles for staffers in internal roles, and other methods to fill vacant patrol positions, Armstrong said: “People think it’s not a big deal to lose this number of officers, but somebody has to sit in those seats, somebody has to answer those calls. […] we want to make sure we care about the health and wellness as well as that we don’t burn our staff out, but we’re in a position where the numbers are getting to a point where we’re getting close to enforcing mandatory overtime.”

Contact George Kelly at 408-859-5180.

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Author: George Kelly