By HARRY HARRIS from the East Bay Times
OAKLAND — When it comes to violent crime, the city is “considerably safer” than it was five years ago, thanks to a combination of police strategies and community involvement, city leaders said Tuesday, optimistic that the trend can be sustained.
The message was delivered at a city hall news conference by Mayor Libby Schaaf and Chief of Police Anne E. Kirkpatrick. They were joined by other police commanders, city officials and community leaders.
They released figures showing that between 2012 and 2017, the city’s violent crime rate, which includes homicides, robberies, rapes and assault, has dropped 23 percent. The biggest declines were in shootings (down 50 percent) homicides (down 42 percent), and robberies (down 38 percent) over the past five years. In 2017, the city had 72 murders, the lowest number since 1999.
“We’re seeing the payoff for sticking to a solid game plan,” Schaaf said in a release. “But let’s be clear. This is not ‘mission accomplished’. This is progress acknowledged.”
The mayor credited a “holistic approach” to public safety, smarter strategies that included the city’s Ceasefire program, stronger relationships with the community and partnerships with other law enforcement agencies.
Kirkpatrick called the decline in violent crime “very encouraging.” She said the police department has stabilized leadership with “clear goals and clear direction” and that reducing crime requires “teamwork, something the Oakland Police Department does very well.”
Use-of-force incidents involving officers have also dropped from 1,244 to 309 over the past five years, which is a sign that de-escalation policies are working, she said.
Police Capt. Ersie Joyner III, who commands Ceasefire, said instituting the strategy five years ago was an “enormous paradigm shift” of policing in Oakland. Police and community members identify gang members and other offenders prone to violence, especially involving guns, and meet with them to offer support services and counseling if they will change their lifestyles. It is made clear they face arrest if they continue their violent ways. Joyner said “to those young men who chose not to engage in violence, I say ‘thank you.’ ”
Besides reducing violence, other main goals have been to reduce recidivism and build better police-community relationships, all of which have been accomplished. “We used to be apart from the community and now we are part of the community,” Joyner said.
Another encouraging note was that investigators charged suspects in 33 of the 72 murders last year, and also solved 18 from previous years. Capt. Roland Holmgren, commander of the Criminal Investigation Division, said solving cases helps families “begin the process of healing” and that making an arrest in an old case gives those grieving families “a ray of hope.”
The Rev. Michael Wallace, of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, who is part of Oakland Community Organizations, the main group to get Ceasefire started, said he was “just overwhelmed with the reduction of gun violence” and the fact that the strategy has made some people realize “they don’t have to go into a life of crime.”
Alexandra Mallick is the Executive Director of Re:store Justice. Her work in California includes policy and advocacy to advance criminal justice reform. In addition to working on legislation, she works with incarcerated individuals to help change the narrative and shine a light on the power of rehabilitation.