Oakland Interim Police Chief Sean Whent said today that his department’s new neighborhood policing plan is aimed at being more efficient in reducing the city’s high crime rate.

“We want to better identify crime hotspots and react to them,” Whent said at a news conference at the police Eastmont substation, where he introduced the commanders of the five new police districts.

The Police Department had been divided into two large geographic districts in recent years but in March it started switching to five smaller districts, each with its own captain and about 66 officers.

Police officials say the new units will be able to focus on smaller beats and consequently improve response times and allow for more proactive policing.

Whent said the department also wants to “improve our relationship with the community” so that community members feel more comfortable talking with police officers and helping them solve crimes.

“As trust builds, cooperation increases,” he said.

Whent said he believes “there will be a significant crime reduction” by using the new system.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said, “I’m really excited” about the new system and said the city is “building a new Police Department” in which police work hard to develop better relationships with citizens.

“We want officers to slow down and smile,” Quan said.

Quan said “crime is beginning to level off a bit” since the new system began to roll out in March but admitted “we still have a long way to go.”

District 1 consists of Jack London Square as well as the adjacent downtown, Chinatown and Uptown districts.

Capt. Eric Lewis, who oversees the area, said, “We have a very serious robbery issue,” particularly in the Seventh Street corridor and around 14th Street and Broadway in the heart of downtown.

“It’s unacceptable, the things that are occurring in the middle of the city,” Lewis said.

He said he’s assigned officers to work in the areas most affected by robberies 24 hours a day and also pledged to do more bicycle patrols.

District 2 includes the Oakland hills and the Montclair, Temescal and Rockridge neighborhoods.

Lt. Chris Bolton, who assists Capt. Anthony Toribio in commanding the area, said he feels “a sense of personal accountability to our citizens” and he believes the new system will lead to “a better, safer Oakland.

District 3 consists of the city’s Lakeshore, East Lake, Dimond and Laurel neighborhoods.

Capt. Ricardo Orozco, who commands the area, said he and his team will focus on reducing robberies and fighting human trafficking.

“We will target specific areas where crimes are occurring,” Orozco said.

Capt. Steven Tull said human trafficking also is an important issue in District 4, which runs east from Fruitvale Avenue to 62nd Avenue in part of East Oakland.

“I walked my district and people told me their primary issue is human trafficking,” Tull said.

He said he’s also focusing on reducing robberies and burglaries.

“There’s still a lot to be done but we’re moving in the right direction,” Tull said.

Capt. Kirk Coleman, who heads District 5, which goes from 62nd Avenue southward to Oakland’s border with San Leandro in a section of East Oakland adjacent to District 4, said he’s been working to identify and crackdown on his area’s most violent groups.

“We want to eliminate violent crime, including robberies,” Coleman said.

He said he is increasing bicycle and foot patrols by officers because “we want to get up and personal” with criminals.

Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

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