Meet Captain Darren Allison, OPD Area 2 Commander

Saturday, May 9, 2015

In "The Pirates of Penzance," Gilbert and Sullivan presented a view of law enforcement through the prism of doing one's duty, and turned duty into a burden:
"When constabulary duty's to be done,
"A policeman's lot is not a happy one."

Ask OPD Captain Darren Allison about that, and he has a ready answer: "I love my job!"

Captain Allison has spent his entire working career with the Oakland Police Department. "I started young as a police cadet - I was 19 - and decided I wanted to make a career of policing, and I wanted to do it in Oakland." He was not interested in other, smaller departments with fewer and more routine challenges "where I wouldn't be able to be helping as much." He found OPD's moderate size and availability of opportunities and challenges provided him the chance to have an impact.

Recently named commander of Police Area 2, consisting of a number of police beats including 12Y and 13X which, in turn, include Rockridge and Upper Rockridge, he hosted Rockridge News editor Don Kinkead and writer Judith Berne in his office for an interview following his assignment. Before starting, he asked for a moment to complete and send an e-mail he had needed to finish prior to the meeting. Two large monitors blinked and flashed above his computer as he typed. Responding to Kinkead's exclamation about having "a lot of real estate, there," Allison agreed and said, somewhat under his breath, "I have more databases than I know what to do with." It later became evident that he has many things to do with each of them.

The e-mail complete, the Captain was asked about his early career plans. In his younger days, envisioning a future employment environment, Captain Allison had undefined career goals, but he knew he wanted to be able to stay active and to work in a non-desk-bound job. He found that environment during his early years with the Department, but it began to slip away as he rose through the ranks.

Since his graduation from the Police Academy in 1996, Captain Allison has served in many of the Department's offices commensurate with his increasing rank. A partial list of his assignments includes: Patrol; Field Operations; Community Policing; Crime Reduction Team; Special Operations/Gang Unit; Internal Affairs; City-wide Incident Commander; and Inspector General's Office. Along the way, he finished his college degree, majoring in organizational studies, and attended the FBI Academy in Washington, D.C.

He now finds himself spending more time at his desk than his younger self might have planned, but he does get out for on-scene responses and meetings.

In the different assignments, especially community policing, he found a value in working with the community. "Law enforcement is a part of the community as much as residents and business entities. It's not just about arresting people. Working closely with the community and building a solid foundation of relationships that can advance the overall goal of violent crime reduction is a big part of the puzzle," It all comes under the heading of "hardening the target," he suggested. That means, for homes: enhanced lighting and alarms. For the street: being aware of surroundings. Still, he said, "The main engine for public safety is the patrol officer." With staffing approaching 700 officers, though, "we have to be smart and efficient with our resources." And this is where the databases play a role.

Declaring that "there is no typical workday," Captain Allison says his general practice is first to review crime statistics from the previous 24 hours for patterns of occurrence - past and present - and to determine if an apparent spike in a particular type of crime is supported by data over time or is simply a statistical blip. "A rise in a type of crime of 50 percent can be alarming, but if it is based on a change of two or three crimes, we will work to solve them, but added patrols may not be the best use of an officer's time. I place officers on focused assignment based on where the data show crime is occurring."

In closing, the Captain said he was pleased with progress on the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA). "We are in compliance on the greatest number of tasks in the history of the decree. I am optimistic we will reach full compliance in 2015. Then there will be a period of sustainment followed by a transition out of the NSA."

Asked to sum up his feelings about his job, he said, "It's been a rewarding career. I am committed to the work and to the city. I chose to stay here."

And that is the difference between Gilbert and Sullivan's portrayal of duty as a burden and Captain Allison's commitment as a choice: this policeman's lot is a happy one.

Judith Berne contributed to this story.