Call-ins and Crime Reduction in Oakland, Part II

In our last post, we talked about David Kennedy’s violence reduction strategy, sometimes known as the “Ceasefire” program. 

Guess what? We actually started a Kennedy-inspired violence-reduction program here in Oakland. We called the heart of the program “call-ins.” It was operated by Oakland’s Department of Human Services together with the police, Oakland Community Organizations (“OCO”) and with Measure-Y funded “outreach workers.”  

In the spring of 2010, OCO put together one of its “actions” to bring attention to the need for more funding for the “call-ins.” OCO asked for $1 million to save young lives. Three Councilmembers (Quan, Kaplan and Reid) attended the action.  All spoke enthusiastically about the program.  None promised funding.  

But Oakland received literally millions of dollars from the State and Federal government to support the Call-in program. As described on the Governor’s web site

Oakland Gang Reduction, Intervention, and Prevention Program (O-GRIPP) will build upon the City’s Measure Y, a $20 million per year investment in crime reduction, to implement a strategy modeled after the Boston Operation Ceasefire project.  O-GRIPP will target six contiguous police beats in West Oakland.  It will fund a data analyst, case manager, expanded involvement of the Mayor’s Street Outreach Coordinator and a targeted community education message.  It will also form a West Oakland Public Safety Council that will be the focus of neighborhood crime reduction planning.  O-GRIPP will use data from probation, parole and police to identify gang-involved individuals and invite them to Call-Ins where law enforcement will outline sanctions for future violence, and job support service programs and employers will offer training, services and jobs. 

But the program really never got off the ground.  First, it operated mostly as a program offering social services, not the kind of “carrot and stick” program envisioned by Cease Fire.  Second, it brought in ridiculously small numbers of participants.  From September, 2009 until June, 2011, there were 15 call-ins, with a total of only 113 participants.  Two of the call-ins yielded only one participant.  By comparison, we understand a recent Bakersfield call-in had 350 participants. 

The call-in program did not measure violence reduction.  Instead, the goal seemed to be how many participants received job or education referrals, obtained jobs, received transportation passes, legal services, resume assistance, etc.  So the one reason for this violence reduction strategy – reducing firearm violence – has never been measured. 

And then we abandoned the program.  The police declined to participate further.  And nobody seems to know what, if anything, will happen next. 

As Kennedy puts it, dealing with the “bad” guys is not the problem–we do know how to deal with them, justly and effectively. The problem is dealing with the “good” guys–the well-intended but short-sighted elected officials who fail to properly manage programs and fail to provide ongoing support. 

Violent crime in Boston, after it declined greatly for a few years, came back up. The Kennedy-style programs were stopped. Now the programs are starting up again. Oakland’s program barely got started and then had implementation problems, so it was dropped. According to Oakland Deputy Police Chief Ersie Joyner, our problem was finding jobs for the young criminals who wanted to abandon violence and change their lives. So we dropped the program. 

Here we are, well into a fifth decade of more than 100 homicides on average annually in Oakland. There is plenty of evidence that properly implemented cease-fire programs really work. Indeed, one of Kennedy’s colleagues in violence-reduction program development has his office here in crime-ridden Oakland–he is Stewart Wakeling of the Public Health Institute. 

As with so many of Oakland’s problems, what we are lacking is the leadership and focus of our “good” guys. We need to deal effectively with our “good” guys so that we can start dealing  effectively with the bad ones.

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 12 Comments

  1. Chris Vernon

    As discouraging as this is, it still seems like something that should be pursued in Oakland. Did Quan, Kaplan, Reid understand the ins and outs of this approach? Of course it won’t work unless there is an effective stick. We have Measure Y funding for some assistance for these guys. But in Kennedy’s book, it’s clear that social programs end of it is less important than making it clear that police have ‘the goods’ on the criminal element and will come down hard on them if gun violence continued

  2. KODI

    I do recall that particular fiasco and the City Council meetings in which feeble reports on “progress” were presented. Somehow, in Oakland’s city “leadership”, there is a clear lack of understanding on measuring efficacy — setting goals and benchmarks for a project and also incorproating concrete plans on what to do if benchmarks are not met. As I recall from those tortuous meetings, those that had been given responsibility for running this program clearly hadn’t the foggiest notion of what they were supposed to be doing. How do the citizens of Oakland instill sustained intelligent leadership ability in what passes for this city administration? Or does one hire an outside contractor for 5 years, who has established clear achievable goals, is well versed in this program with a written proven track record of success?

  3. David Kennedy

    One other key issue: the purpose of the call-ins is not to reach only those individuals in the room. The purpose of the call-in is to reach the “gangs” out on the street with the key messages of community norms, offers of help, and consequences for subsequent violence. With the correct gang “representatives” in the call-in, one can reach most or all of the offender groups in the city all at once, having a major impact city-wide very quickly. Understanding this and building the operation around it is essential to getting large-scale violence reductions.

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  4. Lee Aurich

    When I read your first post on this program, my reaction was sounds awesome, but the key will be finding jobs for the young folks. The unemployment rate among young Oakland minorities is miserably high.

    This quote from your second post suggests that will be a key obstacle to overcome to make this work: “According to Oakland Deputy Police Chief Ersie Joyner, our problem was finding jobs for the young criminals who wanted to abandon violence and change their lives.”

  5. Steve D

    Lee –
    I’m almost done with Mr. Kennedy’s book myself, and highly recommend it. As Chris discussed above, it’s not clear that providing jobs is an essential component of the approach, so long as the penalties for further criminal activity are made clear. There are plenty of cities in America with unemployment as bad or worse as Oakland’s, but only four have more homicides. There is plenty of room for crime to come down without gains in employment; there is little time to wait for employment to improve in hopes that it will reduce crime

  6. David Kennedy

    The key here is reaching the right people on the street and making clear that the community wants the violence to stop; that there will be consequences for violent groups; and that everybody involved, including the police, want even seasoned offenders to get whatever help is possible. It is not necessary, or possible, to get jobs for every potential offender. Some don’t actually want work, some are basically unemployable, and the reality of local economies is usually such that they cannot rapidly absorb a thousand or so people with, usually, extensive and serious criminal histories. Much, often most, of the violence, isn’t in fact about money – it’s street-code stuff around respect and retribution. And it’s very important, in the outreach to potential violent offenders, to be very clear that the violence is wrong, there’s no excuse for it, and it has to stop: period. Waiting for jobs to show up is in effect saying to the streets that what they’re doing is in some sense understandable and justified, which is a huge mistake. So if the antiviolence partnership can simply say, we’re going to do the best we possibly can on the job and social-service side, that’s all that’s necessary.

  7. Don Link

    I have been involved in public safety and community policing in Oakland for almost 2 decades. I read Kennedy’s book carefully and appreciated his candor about why the Cease Fire program did not work or did not work fully as it was rolled out, also the reasons for its disuse and disappearance. His description of police departments and bureaucratic fiefdoms is spot on and reflects what I have experienced over the years. The search for and belief in a magic bullet or method is the ongoing enemy of thorough, ongoing, maintained programs that will produce results and keep on producing them. Kennedy lays out what is needed in terms of method, human capital, and longevity.

    I feel that the Cease Fire will absolutely work in Oakland, and it has the advantage of having a cooperative DA; the ATF, ICE, FBI, US Attorney on site in the Federal Building, same for the state agencies in the State Building. It also has OCO, a committed, unified faith community, thousands of citizens throughout the city involved in community policing in their beats, and a committed, effective Mayor determined to stop the shooting and wasted young lives. The pieces are in place; it is quite simply a matter of putting them together to finish the picture. I will absolutely work to see that that happens, and sooner rather than later.

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