Scenes from the aftermath in Oakland:
stories of victims, survivors and healers.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A history of Oakland crime-fighting strategies in 4 paragraphs

The Oakland Police Department announced this week that it has introduced a mobile command center, in part to deal with an increase in robberies (often of smartphones) and burglaries in Uptown and near Lake Merritt. You can read what they have to say about it here: Its announcement reminded me of all the many things the OPD and city leaders have tried in just the past 15 years as crime, especially violent crime, in Oakland has continued to taint an otherwise great and beautiful place to live and work. (See also: A history of the homicide rate in Oakland in 4 paragraphs) Here's my history of their efforts, in 4 paragraphs:
Randomly, like the coming of the carnival, mayors and their chiefs announce new crime prevention plans, or resurrect old ones and give them new names. Sometimes, the new plans come to the public attention with fanfare, at press conferences or State of the City speeches or Community Crime Summits. But they tend to peter out quietly. In 1999, Mayor Jerry Brown sought to ease crime first through gentrification, through the building of mid-market condominiums to draw a hoped-for 10,000 new, nonviolent, middle-class residents to moribund neighborhoods near downtown. He had a plan to mimic the blight abatement approach said to have helped New York City curb violence. When the homicide rate soared in the mid-2000s, Brown adopted an element of what is known as the Ceasefire model, in which known perpetrators of violence are called in to City Hall — the meetings are called “call-ins” or “forums” — lectured by law enforcement, by mothers of murder victims, threatened by the district attorney and the federal prosecutor, then offered help from social workers to get out of the gang life. The idea is that often a preponderance of violence in a city is perpetrated by only a handful of residents; if you identify them, pressure them and help them change, you save your city time and money. Later Brown got Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to lend Oakland a hundred California Highway Patrol officers to flood the city’s crime hot spots. He called it “Operation Impact.”

Just before Brown left office, the police chief introduced his “Vision and Plan of Action to Reduce Crime — Improve Accountability.” There would be greater hiring of officers, computer mapping of crime patterns, needs-based deployment of the force, community policing, neighborhood watches and greater police attendance at neighborhood crime prevention council meetings. But soon a new mayor would come into office, with a different plan.

Unlike the carpetbagger Brown, his successor, Ron Dellums, had deep roots in the African-American neighborhoods of West Oakland. His father had been a sleeping car porter and an officer of the historic union. Dellums knew many Oaklanders did not trust the government or the police and would likely chafe against a heightened police presence in their neighborhoods. A majority of Oaklanders favored a crime approach that balanced prevention and enforcement with nearly equal care. Dellums introduced what he called the “Prevention, Intervention, Enforcement, Sustainability,” or PIES, safety strategy. He used revenue from a violence-prevention property tax to send intervention specialists into the violent neighborhoods to negotiate with the gangs, to convince them not to fire. Dellums oversaw a reorganization of the police force. Reluctantly, he increased the number of officers. But retirements, attrition, union problems and budget shortfalls soon pared the force back down. Near the end of Dellums’ time in office, a new police chief proposed the return of computer mapping, or hot spot policing, to re-flood those most violent parts of the city with officers. He proposed the adoption of gang injunctions that would prohibit known gang members from associating with one another. The injunctions met severe opposition in the community and the courts. By now, Oakland had re-introduced, sporadically, the lecture-threat-aid gang call-ins, as well...

In 2011, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan announced her “100 Blocks” strategy. Her staff had determined that 90 percent of Oakland’s violent crime occurred within about 100 blocks of the fifty-seven-square-mile city. This is where the police force would focus most of its presence. Quan was coy about precisely which 100 blocks were to be targeted, but it didn’t matter. Soon a respected crime think tank, Urban Strategies Council, released an analysis demonstrating the widespread nature of Oakland’s shootings beyond any 100 blocks anyone could imagine. And residents of the city’s gentle hills, where there is little to no violent crime, began complaining about the possible effects on their neighborhoods if so many officers were assigned elsewhere. The 100 Blocks plan fizzled.
                       -From Until You Bleed: The Caheri Gutierrez Story
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