President Dudley Thompson called to order the 5,364th Civic Thursday meeting of the 3rd oldest Rotary Club in the world. We are a diverse group of some 300 business, professional and community leaders dedicated to Service Above Self. Rotarians proved how flexible they were when there was a momentary glitch with the sound system. President Dudley entertained the Ballroom attendees with some imaginary card tricks.
Joycie Mack led us in the Pledge of Allegiance in honor of Veterans Day. Phil Holt served with the Navy SEALS. He shared a story about Kevin Harris, a gifted high school student and athlete who received many college acceptance letters. He deferred his schooling and then 9/11 happened. Kevin loved this country, joined the Army and was deployed to Afghanistan. His jeep hit an IED and his sergeant was killed. Kevin was badly wounded. He still suffers from his injuries, PTSD and opiate addiction. Phil delivered food to his homeless shelter yesterday. His story is all too common. This is the price some Veterans have paid. Phil still has serious concerns. Veterans have sobering statistics – 50,000 are without shelter; black veterans are 30% of the unsheltered; 17 suicides per day; military women committee suicide at a rate of 500% more than non-military women. We need to take better care of our veterans. Thank you for your service and the sacrifices you have made. We salute you.
Past President Peter Sherris highlighted a grant we are sponsoring in the dry corridor of Guatemala. Rain has failed. This is a project for farmers to adapt to climate change and change to drought tolerant crops, survey what crops will grow and grow coffee. Our club supports Voces y Manos and we have given them money for scholarships. They are managing a $125,000 grant over two years to save nutrition in Guatemala. This project is now being supported by 9 Districts, 10 Rotary clubs and 10 to 12 individuals. Over the last 20 years our Club has given 39 global grants in 22 countries totaling $1.6 million.
Past President Ces Butner noted that last year we raised the participation level of giving to The Rotary Foundation from 30% to around 90% participation. This year we are looking for 100% participation. Six generous Rotarians have banded together to pledge $50,000 if we can get to 100% participation by December 31st. No donation is too small, the minimum is $25. He asked each of us to participate so we can enjoy the gift of giving.
Renia Webb introduced Oakland Police Department Chief, LeRonne Armstrong, who was live from his squad car.
Chief Armstrong gave us an update on the current state of affairs of the Oakland Police Department and some of the challenges they are currently facing. Violent crime is up, gang related problems have increased, and drug related crimes have also increased. What has decreased are the number of available police officers to deal with over 2,000 calls the department receives each day. The department currently has 680 police officers, down from 740 last year. As of this morning the city of Oakland reached 100 homicides.
These challenges are being met in a variety of ways. Police officers who have left the department are being surveyed to determine what led them to leave and what changes they recommend in order to retain new officers. With regard to the drug situation, the department is working with the FBI and the Alameda County Drug Enforcement Agency. The Chief noted that you cannot arrest your way out of these problems. Community involvement is important, and resource officers are being dispatched to nonviolent situations. The department is also seeking assistance from the state and federal level. Our department of violence prevention has grown. They recently acquired additional violence interrupters going out into the community to help meet again some of these conflicts that are leading to violence.
Forty new recruits will begin the next Police Academy on November 15. The Chief entertained questions from the Ballroom and on Zoom. He recommended that business owners contact the City Council and work with local representatives to find solutions to the problem of the unhoused in business districts. He also believes that the department needs at least 1,200 officers in order to respond to community needs. The department is working on accountability, transparency and de-escalation strategies.
Click here to watch LeRonne Armstrong video segment
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