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Oakland police’s non-emergency phone line wait times surge, data show

Oakland police dispatchers are taking longer to answer 911 calls and officers are showing up later, the San Francisco Standard reported last month. But that is just part of the story.

Calls to Oakland’s non-emergency phone line also are getting picked up slower, according to summary data I obtained through a public records request. Waits rose about 21 percent to 237 seconds in 2022, or nearly four minutes, compared to 196 seconds in 2019, or about three minutes and forty-five seconds. The number of calls surged 38 percent over that same period to more than 703,000 in 2022.

The non-emergency line (510-777-3333) is meant to report incidents that are not life-threatening; suspicious activity; or a variety of other matters. Anecdotally, it’s been used to report ongoing smash-and-grabs in which offenders bash windows to steal items from cars, the sound of gunshots–nee–fireworks, and stray dogs.

City leaders in each of the past couple of years have cut a few million dollars from the police budget, which runs roughly $350 million annually, and the department has struggled to keep positions filled. But the exact reason for the slower answers is unclear. The department has been given a chance to respond.

By 2022, police needed over two minutes to answer nearly one out of every four non-emergency calls, up from less than one in five the year before. Those waits are just the start sometimes. Some callers who get through are then put on hold for minutes at a time.

The extended wait to have calls answered was particularly pronounced, on average, during the second half of day in 2022. Callers almost always waited longer on average in the afternoons and evenings in 2022 than they did during the same times in the previous three years. Waits reached nearly five minutes at 12:45 pm and 4:45 pm, the data show.

Over 600 callers in 2022 waited an hour or more to reach the police representative, the data show.

The full dataset is available through these Google Sheets. The data includes columns whose meaning couldn’t be learned, such as queue seconds and ring seconds. A public records aide for the police department did not respond to queries seeking explanation of the columns.

Oakland non-emergency PowerBI tally

Oakland non-emergency by month (Jan 2019 through Dec 2022)

Oakland non-emergency annuals (2019 through 2022)

2020 Tokyo Olympics coverage

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Canada seize on Australian gaffes in 7-1 win

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U.S. overcome Aussie youngster in extra frame to win 2-1

One curve ends gold chase for Canada pitcher out of retirement

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U.S. stage late comeback over Japan in tune-up before gold match

No fans? Bronze-chasing Canada pitcher has family on hand

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South Koreans strike in extra inning for comeback win over Israel

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Umpires feel the heat in longest, hottest game

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Mexico ousted, Dominican Republic get second chance

South Korea smashes Israel 11-1 to advance to final four

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U.S. coach finally spells slugger Casas’s name right

Dominican Republic win bronze medal in 10-6 win over South Korea

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Jumping into covering softball and baseball at the Olympics from the tech beat back in San Francisco was a smooth transition because I am a big fan of bat-ball sports and had the extra year to prepare when the Games were postponed. There are three overarching highlights from Japan:

One was on the field. Experiencing up-close the dominance of these softball players was awe-inspiring. And as one of the only journalists who is watching in person all 33 softball and baseball games at these Olympics, I tried to capture that for readers by describing their repetitive mid-inning routinestheir unchecked emotions on the mound and how they keep themselves psyched up by writing messages on their mitts. In the case of baseball, these aren’t the best players in the world – and they admit that – but that does not mean they are trying any less to impress. Just look at how dejected Israel was with its elimination from the Olympics.

Off the field, I cannot say enough about the gracious hosts who taxied us, interpreted for us, rushed water and ponchos to our outdoor desks, wrapped TVs and ethernet cables every night to protect them from humidity and done tons more to try to make the experience comfortable. These softball, and especially baseball games, were in uncomfortable heat and support staff and volunteers fought through it more than anyone else here to put on a good show for the media and officials in attendance and also for those watching on TV. In addition, as evidenced by my presence, Reuters brings together a global team of journalists from various beats to help cover the Olympics. The pandemic means we couldn’t all meet, but I was privileged to work on the bat-ball action alongside Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Jorge Silva.

On the tech side, it was wild using face match everyday to enter venues after writing about facial recognition a bunch but rarely experiencing it in daily life. The WiFi on buses was a lifesaver and I am still stunned by how well it worked. The press conferences were streamed for journalists on Microsoft Teams, which was great because I could remotely ask questions to some players while waiting to interview others in a different area. The experience largely was error-free. I tried to keep my eye on tech stories while there, which is why I wrote about potential bias in archery’s new heart rate trackinga noisemaking gadget that keeps us safe from foul balls and the low-tech measures that make the ball here the “best in the world.” I’m also returned home with some story ideas based on the incredible usage of Google Translate, Google Lens and Yahoo Weather that I saw among visitors and locals alike. I should mention that the robot that entertains during halftime at basketball games, which somehow can swoosh a mid-court shot with ease, was just as creepy in person as everyone on social media thinks it is.

One regret: Some of the bat-ball games were in Fukushima, which is rebuilding from the devasting tsunami a decade ago. Coaches and players talked up the peaches of Fukushima ad nauseum. The prefecture government even showed media a video about their peaches and other agriculture, including what was described as the nation’s finest rice. But unless I missed a big bowl somewhere, no peaches were offered to media. The peach-pie lover in me is excited to return in the years ahead for some fresh pickings!

Photobooth rental? Check the privacy policy fine print

I was a bit taken back a few months ago when I realized a photo booth service at a wedding I had attended had publicly posted all the images from that night to a professional photo-sharing website.

I had been accustomed to thinking that when you hop into one of those photo booths and walk away with a print out or two from the session, those images die forever. Maybe I was naive, but turns out that’s not always the case.

Sure you’re at an event – a somewhat public setting. But most photo “booths” are private by their very nature, with the curtains and all that. So people going inside them expect some modicum of privacy, or at least that only them and the operator will know what silly, funny, goofy poses went down inside.

I recently polled the top 10 local photo booth purveyors to get a better sense of their image retention and image sharing policies. Five provided informative answers. The big issue that clients are in charge of setting the privacy rules. But they might not even know what rules or limits to consider, and there is not usually a mechanism deployed to communicate the chosen policies to the guests at an event.

  • The photo booth operators said it is up to clients to decide how images are protected. Some will maintain the images for clients in online storage for up to six months; others will maintain them online in perpetuity. They offer the option to have those links password-gated. Some give the option of making the links “unlisted.”
  • However, none provide disclosure to the guests at the event about what the clients have chosen….and that’s where I think there could be much improvement. I get that guests are likely to be drunk and may not fully comprehend the situation. But a little insight would go a long into knowing what you are getting yourself into. One purveyor said that some corporate clients in Silicon Valley will have their own warning notice/disclosure posted at events.
  • Before posting online, the photo booth operators generally scan through looking for nudity or extraordinarily embarrassing shots. One gives the option for phototakers to ask for images deleted on the spot at the event.
  • One operator said they do upload photos to their social media accounts in some situations when they have approval to do so. Again how guests know that approval has been given by clients is unclear.
  • On the plus side, all the purveyors said they do not sell images to external parties. Whether those guarantees are made in the contracts, worth double checking. Not all the operators actually have a “privacy policy.”

If Enterprise looked at its data…

I was just clearing out marketing emails from my inbox when I stopped on a message from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I realized now that I’m 25, I don’t need to only use Enterprise for my rental car needs. You see, Enterprise has a special page — aimed for university students and alumni — to rent a car without being at least 25 years old. Sure, you can do that other rental car firms too. But Enterprise, through this special link, doesn’t charge an extra underage driver fee in most cases. So countless times, it was my most affordable and reliable option.

I have a loyalty account with Enterprise, but I’m guessing that’s unlikely to keep me coming back now that I’m 25. There’s likely to be other options that are cheaper.

But there’s a chance Enterprise could have gripped me with a promotion or two in recent weeks. When I turned 25, some big data robot analyzing my purchases might have realized a pattern to my behavior and warned an agent that I was risk of not returning. An offer could have come my way for a free weekend getaway maybe? Not sure, but anything to get me on their good side. Or at least, a smarter reminder about why the loyalty program could pay off for me.

An Open Letter To ‘The Mentalist’

Dear Chris Long and David Nutter,

I was disappointed to see Special Agent Kimball Cho flush pain medication pills down the toilet on a recent episode of The Mentalist (Season 4, Episode 18).

Government agencies nationwide have been stepping up efforts to educate people that extra or unwanted pills should be disposed of properly. This keeps them out of the hands of drug abusers and protects the environment. The accumulation of pills in our wastewater system inject unnecessary chemicals into our water systems.

Government agencies, law enforcement, retailers and other partners have made it really easy for people to throw away pills at all kinds of locations. The fictional CBI office could have easily included a prescription medicine disposal bin. For a law enforcement officer to do something incorrectly is one thing, but for an agent as upstanding and by the book as Cho to not follow proper procedures is even more egregious. If this was an attempt to show the continuing degradation of his character which began with his relationship with his confidential informant, then I would say that subtlety is lost on most viewers.

I hope in future episodes you take into account what’s happening in this world and that you recognize the importance of characters such as Cho as role models.

Thanks for the terrific show.