Call-ins and Crime Reduction in Oakland, Part I

For the last several weeks, much of the political talk in Oakland has centered around Occupy Oakland, the encampment, responses by the mayor, police and city council, and whether the mayor should be recalled.

These are important issues of the moment.  But once they have faded, Oaklanders will still have to face the fact that their city has the fifth highest crime rate in the United States and its homicide rate is on a pace to hit 107 in 2011.  With a twenty percent drop in sworn officers and plans to reduce police staffing even further, Oakland has no meaningful plan to reverse these trends and address the largest problem our City faces.

In the next week to ten days, we will be talking about a true gun violence reduction strategy that has worked in ten other American cities.  This strategy does not require an enormous influx of police officers.  The strategy acknowledges what Oakland politicians have long said: that you “can’t arrest your way out” of violent crime and that the continued incarceration of young, poor black men is getting us nowhere.  The strategy depends on a coordination of strict, police-enforced rules of conduct, availability of social services and most importantly, an understanding of this fundamental fact:  the people involved in most of our violent crime absolutely hate the violence.

Members of our community who believe that only policing will end crime will have a difficult time with what is sometimes disparagingly referred to as the “hug a thug” aspects of this strategy.  Activists who believe on ideological grounds that police are the problem and not the solution will likewise object.

But neither side of this debate can quarrel with what the numbers show.  This strategy results in dramatic reductions of violent crime for as long as the strategy is followed.  And the crime rate goes right back up again when the strategy is abandoned.

Today we talk about the strategy and its measured results.  In part II, we will talk about Oakland’s “Call-In” program, why it doesn’t work, and how it can be fixed.  And in part III, we will talk about lessons Oakland can learn from other cities.

Don’t Shoot

 Last month, David Kennedy, a criminologist at New York’s John Jay College, spoke in Oakland and elsewhere locally about proven methods for reducing urban violence, especially among young men involved in gangs. Kennedy’s book, Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America describes dramatic successes in reducing homicides and other violent acts by 50% within a short period of time in Boston and in other cities. A shorter version of Kennedy’s story, from the June 22, 2009 New Yorker, is available here.

At first blush, the Kennedy strategy seems naïve.  But it actually works.  While the strategy varies from city to city, the basic components are these:  Young gang members are asked to come to a meeting of community members, clergymen, local officials, city and federal law enforcement officers. At these “call-ins” the young people are told that there is enough evidence of their criminal activities to put them in jail. They are also told that all the community members and others present care about them and believe that they are essentially good people with potential to live socially productive lives. They are offered help to learn how to get along in mainstream society, and to contribute to it without violence. They are offered the choice of jail or joining society.

This is a carrot and stick strategy.  Gang members are told that if they continue their violent ways, law enforcement will come down on them like a ton of bricks.  If they renounce violence, the community will make job, remedial education and other services available to them.  It is essential that “you don’t write checks you can’t cash.”  This means that both services and suppression have to be fully available.

As Kennedy said at his presentations, “We know how to end violence in our communities.”  These programs really seem to work.  The programs have been tried in eleven different communities.  While the programs and the metrics have differed, the outcomes have almost always been remarkable:

Study                                                              Main Outcome

Boston Operation Ceasefire                          -63% youth homicide

Indianapolis IVRP                                            -34% total homicide

Stockton Operation Ceasefire                     -42% gun homicide

Lowell PSN                                                          -44% gun assaults

Cincinnati CIRV                                                -36% GMI  involved homicides

Newark Ceasefire                                              NS  reduction gunshot wound incidents

LA Operation Ceasefire                                  Sig short-term red. violent gun crime

Chicago PSN                                                        -37% homicide, -30% recidivism rate

Nashville DMI                                                  -56% reduction drug offenses

Rockford DMI                                                  -22% non-violent offenses

Hawaii HOPE                                                     -26% recidivism rate

Source:  Braga & Weisburd, 2011, The Campbell Collaboration, The Effects of the Approach on Crime.

Kennedy observes that this strategy does not work if it is looked at as another program.  It needs to be a way of life.  If it is a “program,” cities eventually stop using it, and the crime begins to rise again.  This happened in Boston and many of the other cities where the strategy initially had success.  The strategy requires institutional memory and the departments implementing it must take the long view.

In our next post, we will talk about Oakland’s version of the Kennedy-inspired violence reduction strategy.

Make Oakland Better Now!

OakTalk Here is the blog of Make Oakland Better Now!, an Oakland community grassroots group of a grass-roots group of voters, volunteers, and policy advocates committed to improving the City of Oakland by focusing on public safety, public works, and responsible budgets. Founded in 2003, we’ve researched, lobbied, and successfully campaigned for a number of new, impactful policies, including the city’s Rainy Day Fund, Measure Z and Operation Ceasefire.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. David Kennedy

    David Kennedy here. This is fantastic, and I’m looking forward to reading the next two installments.

    One technical point – the “hold the case” step is part of our strategy to shut down overt drug markets. “Banking” the case avoids the arrest, which hurts the dealer and is very expensive, and creates a very powerful deterrent: the dealer knows that if he is seen dealing again, the existing case makes arrest and prosecution a near-certainty (those are the drug market intervention, or DMI, studies in the list above. In the Ceasefire strategy Oakland has been pursuing, there are no banked cases. Instead, in the call-in, gang members are told that the next gang to shoot or kill someone will get the full attention of law enforcement, aimed at all members, for any crimes they may be committing. It does the same thing, which is to create a very powerful deterrent at the gang level.

    Ther’s more on both strategies on our National Network for Safe Communitieis website, and FAQs at:

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