Tuesday morning, San Leandro Police held the second "Coffee with the Cops" meeting with about 15 community members and 11 police officers in a banquet room at Dick's Restaurant.
After a brief introduction by San Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli, Officer Pete Ballew stated that the $2.4 million COPS grant that San Leandro received in 2010 enabled the hiring of five former San Jose Police officers who were in the process of being trained. This enabled the department to add a bicycle officer , a school resource officer, and two more tactical officers. The COPS grant funds five police officers for three years and requires that San Leandro pays for the fourth year, estimated at $800,000. Ballew noted that the citizen police academy, which always has a waiting list, starts again in March and applications are accepted in December and January. The first teen police academy was launched this summer and had 16 graduates.
Officer Tim DeGrano was next up with a presentation about information available from the police department website. DeGrano explained CodeRed, a service from Emergency Communications Network that allows the police department to "record, send and track personalized messages to thousands of citizens in minutes." DeGrano recounted a use of CodeRed that enabled the capture of a suspect that had fled from police into the Bay-O-Vista neighborhood.
Next DeGrano showed off the new daily log web page that displays the daily dispatch log which includes most police responses since September 12, 2011. Incidents involving domestic violence, sexual assaults, medical responses, and incidents involving children are not included in the daily logs. Each day's log can be downloaded in PDF or Excel format.
DeGrano noted that San Leandro has a full service police department and will respond to barking dog and burglar alarm calls, unlike many cities. When asked if the police should be called for copper thefts, even when unsure of the date of the theft, DeGrano responded, "Absolutely," because there may still be evidence or may be indicative of a pattern.
Certain crime information can also be reported online, but DeGrano noted that crimes that include a suspect should be called in to the police department and not reported online.
When a business owner asked about whether lights should be left on at her business on E. 14th St., DeGrano said that some prefer to leave lights on while others close up everything to hide what they have. DeGrano asked that anyone who has a cash register empty out the cash register in a way that is visible.
DeGrano encouraged the audience to call the police, even for something like speeding cars, because officers may see the speeding cars just by happening to be in the right place in the right time. Officer Rick De Costa noted that one dispatcher will be on the phone taking a report while the other dispatcher is already sending out information to officers.
Spagnoli noted that there are seven beats throughout San Leandro and there are 7 to 15 officers patrolling San Leandro at any given time of day. According to Spagnoli, there are currently 89 officers, including the Police Chief, captains, lieutenants, and sergeants, a dozen detectives and investigators, three officers assigned to the schools, and two crime prevention and community outreach officers.
Officer Doug Calcagno presented a summary of the incident in which Darnell Hutchinson died after being restrained and tased by four San Leandro Police officers outside of Nations on October 9, 2011. Calcagno noted that "The four officers involved in it happen to be probably four of the nicest officers we have in our department." Calcagno summarized the triple homicide that occurred after a party on October 2, 2011, and noted that San Leandro Police are dealing with similar issues that face Oakland when it comes to trust of the police: the unwillingness of people to come forward with information.
Finally, Calcagno summarized the theft and car chase that resulted in the death of two suspects and major injuries to a third suspect involved in a theft from FoodMax.
One resident complimented the police and then said, "I think too many people try to make Oscar Grant a hero when he was nothing but a thug and the cops are getting a bad rap." Calcagno noted that nearby incidents in Oakland and other places reflect on all police departments.
Spagnoli responded to a question about the length of administrative leave by noting that the length of the leave is determined on a case-by-case basis. The administrative leave to ensure that the officers were mentally fit and have been appropriately debriefed.
Spagnoli went on to address questions she has received about tasers. She stated that, "Tasers are a best practice" and noted that tasers can be used to gain control of a suspect when "you can't gain compliance in another way. There's a fallacy out there that tasers kill people and actually, if you read every report that anybody has been killed associated with a taser, is tasers have not been the primary cause of death in any case. Taser International, the company that puts that out, is very active in defending their use of that equipment." According to Spagnoli, the taser can be used with or without darts. "And it's [an] effective tool, really, to maintain control of somebody who is not complying with peace officer's requests." Spagnoli added, the taser "comes in one speed and you can choose anywhere between one and five seconds, meaning it stops after X amount of seconds."
When asked about dealing with mentally ill people, Spagnoli said that there are specially-trained officers who deal with an estimated 1,000 police calls involving mentally ill people.
The next question involved gang activity in San Leandro, which Officer Neil Goodman described as a generational problem with two gangs, Davis Street Locos and Manor Dro Boys splitting San Leandro into north and south at Marina Boulevard. A shooting two years ago at McKinley Elementary involved the Davis Street Locos and resulted in a sentence of 22 years for the shooter because of gang enhancements to the sentence. Goodman said that kids begin in gangs between the ages of 12 and 14 and that the police are working on a diversion program.
The last question was about funding for more police officers and Spagnoli noted that funding at the state and federal level was drying up. Spagnoli said that they were working on a police foundation to raise money for specific programs and to talk to Officer Ballew for more information.
The next Coffee with the Cops is scheduled for November 8, 2011, from 8 to 9am at the Marina Inn, located at 68 Monarch Bay Drive.