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.
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.