Oakland’s Life Enrichment Committee will consider a proposal by City Council member Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Council President Larry Reid to establish a Department of Violence Prevention. “The mission of the DVP,” they write, “is to work to dramatically reduce violent crime and to serve communities impacted by violence to end cycles of trauma.” (Read the full report, which includes important statistics on the city’s homicide and crime rates, here.)
Make Oakland Better Now! urges the Committee, the City Council, and the community to support this important measure. A brief summary of the reasons for our support, and our suggestions for further action, are set out below.
Violence in Oakland Is a Critical Problem and Needs to Be Addressed with Urgency
While we continue to hear announcements from those in City government that community violence has decreased, and while these are technically true, the key fact is this: Oakland continues to be one of the most dangerous large cities in the United States.
Over the past three years (in other words, from 2014, when Measure Z was passed, to 2016), violent crime has gone down an average of 3.5 % per year, homicides have gone up an average of 4% per year, and murders plus serious shootings have gone down an average of 10.5% per year. If we look at the range from 2013 to 2016, violent crime is down an average 7.6% per year, homicides and shootings combined are down an average of 9.8% per year and murders are down an average of 2% per year.
Moreover, we are failing to adequately address domestic violence or commercial sexual exploitation of children. Homicides, domestic violence, and child sexual exploitation are real problems, causing tragic and far-reaching consequences.
While the voters approved funding to address these issues through Measure Z, we have not seen any solutions or sense of urgency given the level of prioritization that is necessary. Moreover, the city’s quietly stated crime reduction goals (10 % per year), while not even being met in the last several years, only serve to keep city-wide expectations low, and to convince some Oaklanders that all they are seeing is “business as usual.” This has to stop.
The Department of Violence Prevention, with Its Own Director, Elevates Violence Prevention to an Appropriately High Level
Right now, the Human Services Department is stretched much too thin. Violence prevention programs, outside the Police Department, share prioritization with Head Start, the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth, senior centers, homelessness reduction programs, and more.
With a view toward valuing what you measure and measuring what you value, we believe that a department devoted solely to violence prevention, with a director-level leadership and full accountability for outcomes, much improves the likelihood of effective violence reduction in Oakland.
Existing Violence Prevention Programs Should Be Moved to the Supervision of an Expert Interim Director While the Long-Term Strategies and Structure of the Department Are Designed
Generally we favor the idea that any department should have a full structure designed before implementation. However, we think the need for a Department of Violence Prevention is sufficiently urgent that the elevation to department level should take place immediately and a highly qualified and experienced interim director should be appointed. Further, the interim director should be compelled to return to Council in a very short period of time to propose and have adopted long-term department structures and strategies.
For the reasons we have set out, we urge the committee to recommend to Council adoption of Council Member Gibson McElhaney’s and Council President Reid’s proposed ordinance establishing a Department of Violence Prevention and Director of that department, who will stand on an equal footing with the Chief of Police and all other department directors.