Oakland Forced to Remove Street Lights and Replace With Stop Signs Due to Copper Theft

By: Amanda Kusumowidagdo | Published: Jun 03, 2024

Crime in California has reached an alarming level. In one Californian city, the situation has become so bad that officials are seemingly “giving up” on its residents.

The city of Oakland has been struggling with both petty and heavy crimes. The latest criminal trend, however, is resulting in the baffling decision to eliminate some traffic lights.

Stop Signs Replacing Traffic Lights

A street intersection in Oakland now has brand new stop signs instead of traffic lights. Thieves ripped out copper wires, the way they did in Las Vegas, making street lights go awry.  

Close-up photo of a red stop sign

Source: Aaron J Hill/Pexels

It happened so much that Oakland authorities got tired of dealing with the theft so they decided to replace traffic lights with stop signs.


Oakland Leaders Giving Up?

A despondent resident told KPIX that Oakland leaders were “giving up” on its residents. This resident had every right to look depressed, as residents of the area must contend with ceding ground to criminals instead of standing up.

Flag of the city of Oakland, California

Source: Dyfsunctional/Wikimedia Commons

According to KPIX, some residents blame the whole thing on a nearby homeless encampment. They claim the city refused to do something about the criminal activity centered in the encampment, which leads to rampant theft.

Mixed Opinions on Oakland Crime

But another man speaking to KPIX instead praised the city’s leadership. He said he believed the stop signs were better than the lights. Since the lights hadn’t been working properly for many months, why not replace them altogether?

A person in brown jacket handcuffed and escorted by a person with black gloves

Source: U.S. Marshals Service/Wikimedia Commons

Other mixed opinions came from many Oakland residents about crime in the city. Some think these problems are just a part of life. But others believe there should be stricter enforcement of the law to restore order.

A Ghost Town

Back in February, CNN reported that the rising crime in Oakland might just force the city into becoming a ghost town. Oakland’s crime rates went up when felonies in other major American cities dropped. 

A mural with the words The City Is Covered In Our Dead Friends Names under a Peet’s Coffee sign

Source: Levi Meir Clancy/Unsplash

For example, police data showed robberies grew 38% in 2023 in Oakland. Burglaries increased 23%, and motor vehicle theft rose 44%. A San Francisco Chronicle analysis even counted roughly one in every 30 Oakland residents had a car stolen last year.

Fewer Homicides and Violent Crimes

But despite the rise in robberies (in the first four months of 2024, more than 1,000 robberies occurred in the city), Oakland suffered fewer homicides, firearms assaults and rapes

Brown wallet next to a yellow no. 9 sign beside a chalk drawing of a person’s body

Source: cottonbro studio/Pexels

Homicides were down by 17%, assault with firearms dropped 21% and rapes decreased 21%. Overall, there have been 33% fewer violent crimes in 2024 than the previous year.


Governor Took Action

The crime in Oakland even worried California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who decided to deploy 120 California Highway Patrol officers to Oakland and surrounding areas to mitigate the crimes. Their aim was to crack down on crime, including vehicle theft, retail theft and violent crime.

A man standing on a podium speaking in front of a crowd of audience

Source: Government of California/Wikimedia Commons

“What’s happening in this beautiful city and the surrounding area is alarming and unacceptable,” the governor said in a statement. Many business owners agreed, as they’d been pleading for help for many months.


Crime a Big Problem

Cindy Varela, the owner of a Latin American restaurant in Oakland, said her restaurant had been broken into and vandalized by burglars. “These people come here and they broke my windows. I lost my money,” she said.

A person in white T-shirt standing in front of a looted storefront

Source: Doug Letterman/Wikimedia Commons

Varela, like many Oakland business owners, thought crime was “a big problem here.” Customers were too scared to sit down and eat, thus causing some businesses to lose customers. If this persisted, many businesses would have to close.


No Easy Answer

Crime scholars couldn’t easily explain why crime has increased so much in Oakland. However, they did think the pandemic had a major impact.

A red Emergency sign on the wall warning of coronavirus disease outbreak

Source: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

A study by the Council on Criminal Justice explained: “Pandemic-related changes in people’s daily activities and emotional and economic stress levels, changes in police practices and a rupture of public trust in law enforcement and the suspension or reduction of social supports and programs are among the theories offered by crime scholars.”


Police Service Down in Oakland

Meanwhile, police services and violence prevention programs were cut in Oakland. The rising house prices (not just in Oakland but also in the entire state of California) made way for homeless encampments on sidewalks and under freeway bypasses.

A person wearing black police uniform and black glasses standing in the middle of a crowd

Source: Firas Omer/Unsplash

This increase in the homeless population also increased public safety concerns, although not every homeless person is likely to be a criminal.


More Cops Needed

Many law enforcement advocacy groups and also the police said putting more cops on the streets of Oakland would be one way to combat the rising crime in the city. Up until March this year, Oakland didn’t have a chief of police. Floyd Mitchell was finally named chief of police.

Floyd Mitchell wearing a blue suit standing on a podium speaking into a microphone

Source: MayorShengThao/X

Business leaders also demanded tougher public safety policies in the commercial districts. They wanted the police to conduct traffic stops for vehicles with illegally tinted windows and more street police patrols.


A Comprehensive Community Safety Plan

Since taking office in 2023, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said she’d pursued “a comprehensive community safety plan.” It focused on investing in the police department, empowering violence prevention and leveraging technology to disrupt criminal networks. 

Oakland mayor Sheng Thao and Chief of Police Floyd Mitchell surrounded by people in an office during an event

Source: MayorShengThao/X

She also directed the Oakland PD to resurrect its “Ceasefire Strategy,” a three-pronged approach to reduce crime in Oakland that the city had to abandon in 2020 to focus on the pandemic. The mayor’s office clearly hasn’t given up on Oakland. Now, it’s just a question whether the police and other officials are up to the challenge of cleaning the streets of Oakland.