OAKLAND, Calif. – Days after he announced he would be sending state troopers in to help Oakland police make arrests, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he is sending prosecutors from the state to help prosecute “serious and complex” cases in Alameda County amid a crime surge.
Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta made a joint announcement on Thursday, describing this development as a “partnership” with Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price to increase the capacity to prosecute suspects involved in violent crimes, serious drug-related crimes, and property crimes — including retail theft and auto burglary — in Oakland and the East Bay.
Price has pitched herself as a progressive with a particular philosophy of holding people accountable while also wanting to end racial disparity and mass incarceration of Black and Brown people.
But at least publicly, she seemed to appreciate the outside prosecutorial help, even though her administration, and the past administration, has never complained that they’ve been short of attorneys.
“I welcome the support from the Governor in this fight against organized retail crime and the scourge of fentanyl in our community,” Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price said in a statement distributed by Newsom’s office.
In an interview, she said she rejects her critcs’ claims that the state is stepping in because she’s not doing her job.
“My detractors are disappointed that their candidate lost,” she said, referring to herself. “So it’s unfortunate, but we’re doing a great job.”
The California Department of Justice has independent prosecutorial authority and, as part of this partnership, is expected to prosecute big cases targeting major criminal networks in Oakland and the East Bay, Newsom’s office said. Lawyers will be sent from the California National Guard and the state’s Department of Justice.
It’s unclear how long this partnership will last. It’s also unclear how many state prosecutors will be part of the effort.
“I don’t know how they’ve worked the particulars out,” legal analyst Michael Cardoza told KTVU on Thursday. “Otherwise, you’re going to have a mini-DA’s office within the DA’s office, doing things different from the incumbent DA. It could be a horrid mess.”
Cardoza added it will also lead to “complete chaos” if prosecutors with different philosophies are responsible to “two different leaders.”
“I really hope they’ve thought this out,” Cardoza said. “We don’t know enough about it, yet.”
Ryan Khojasteh, who currently is a prosecutor for Alameda County under Price and is running for San Francisco District Attorney, disagreed.
He said he thinks partnerships are great, pointing to a similar one arranged between the state DOJ and the San Francisco DA in April 2023 to target fentanyl trafficking rings.
“Partnership is a great thing,” Khojasteh told KTVU. “We’ll be able to dedicate more power and money. We’re all on the same team here. We should be open to help and collaboration. I don’t see it as a rebuke. I don’t see it as an antagonist.”
He said it remains to be seen who would take the lead on particular cases, but mostly, Khojasteh emphasized: “I think this is an important moment for all of us to put politics aside.”
Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods said he didn’t need to see any particulars. He could already tell that using state lawyers to prosecute local cases will “fuel mass incarceration and the further devastation of Black and Brown communities.”
Woods said he wasn’t aware the DA was short of prosecutors and he pointed out that his office hasn’t gotten an influx of help or money, especially in light of the increased prosecution to come. The Public Defender’s Office budget is approximately $54.1 million per year; the District Attorney’s Office gets $96 million per year.
“We can’t keep doing this over and over,” Woods said. “We need different solutions.”
Patterning after a model developed as part of the state’s San Francisco partnership, CalGuard will deploy prosecutors to work as deputized assistant District Attorneys in Price’s office and will provide investigative and analytical support to identify criminal networks, Newsom’s Office said.
Cases will be investigated and developed “in cooperation with local and federal law enforcement partners.” The specifics were not spelled out.
“An arrest isn’t enough. Justice demands that suspects are appropriately prosecuted,” Newsom said in a statement. “Whether it’s ‘bipping’ or carjacking, attempted murder or fentanyl trafficking, individuals must be held accountable for their crimes using the full and appropriate weight of the law.”
It’s Newsom’s latest tough-on-crime approach.
This week, he announced the deployment of 120 CHP officers to the East Bay as part of a law enforcement surge operation, targeting auto theft, cargo theft, retail crime, violent crime, and high-visibility traffic enforcement. With so many more officers, there are bound to be more arrests, and more need to prosecute them, experts pointed out.
Last month, Newsom called for new legislation to expand criminal penalties and bolster police and prosecutorial tools to combat theft and take down professional criminals who profit from smash and grabs, retail theft, and car burglaries.
And last year, Newsom announced what he described as the largest-ever investment to combat organized retail crime in state history, an annual 310% increase in proactive operations targeting organized retail crime, and special operations across the state to fight crime and improve public safety.
All this focus and resources come as crime in Oakland is rising compared to some other urban cities in the state.
In 2023, violent crime in Oakland rose 21% compared to the year before, robbery increased 38%, and vehicle theft increased 45%.
However, in cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, data shows the opposite trend, where violent crime has been going down.