For several years now, Make Oakland Better Now! has urged elected officials to adopt and implement a comprehensive public safety plan, involving coordinated activities from every city department – from police to parks and recreation and more – playing a role in violent crime prevention.
In 2013 the City’s police consultant, Robert Wasserman, argued for this in a report titled, “Zeroing Out Crime.” Mr. Wasserman wrote, “Every agency must see itself as part of the crime solution and coordinate initiatives.” He urged regular meetings of heads of every department with any responsibility for crime reduction.
While some of Oakland’s elected officials have agreed, they have not been able to coordinate adoption or implementation of such a policy.
A new City leader is taking up the work of making this finally happen, and we are hopeful. In October, three of our board members were pleased to meet with Guillermo Cespedes, the first Chief of Oakland’s new Violence Prevention Department, who assumed that position on September 23. He said at the start of his tenure, “I am honored and very excited to return to Oakland to join professional colleagues, community advocates and elected officials in building a balanced comprehensive violence prevention strategy.”
In our meeting with him, Chief Cespedes made it clear that what is important to him in his new role is Oakland’s need for an overall strategy, with united participation by all relevant agencies. He further made it clear he will be working to make this happen.
Chief Cespedes brings a noteworthy background to this work. He spent 18 years working for a number of agencies in Oakland, and in 2000 he moved to Los Angeles. There he co-founded a new gang violence reduction strategy. The strategy would become known as the “Summer of Success,” later “Summer Night Lights” as part of the Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD). In its first two years, the program resulted in summer reductions of homicides of 82% and 34%. Cespedes was appointed Deputy Mayor and Director of GRYD, and in those roles he co-authored Los Angeles’ citywide comprehensive violence prevention strategy. In 2016, Chief Cespedes moved to Honduras to assist in implementing a family systems-based violence prevention program funded by the United States Agency for Independent Development. He also assisted with similar programs in at least seven other countries.
Chief Cespedes made it clear that he not only agrees with MOBN! in his support for a comprehensive, all-city violence prevention plan, he also shares our support for Operation Ceasefire as part of the City’s overall strategy. Operation Ceasefire has consistently contributed to violence reductions when effectively supported by Oakland leadership.
Moreover, he agrees with MOBN! in his support of public safety transparency and the ongoing use of properly accumulated risk and safety-based data. He is insistent that homicide reduction strategies must be based on the evidence of the results of such strategies, such as described in a book he recommended – Thomas Abt’s “Bleeding Out: The Devastating Consequences of Urban Violence – And A Bold New Plan for Peace in The Streets.”
While Chief Cespedes understands that much still needs to be done, he said he has been impressed by Oakland’s attention to public safety, remarking that the city is establishing benchmark efforts in the nation for reducing violent crimes.
For the last several years Oakland has seen major progress reducing crime. However, 2019 has seen significant backsliding. As of October 27, compared to the same date in 2018, almost every category of major crime has seen significant increases. Homicides are up 15%, aggravated assaults 12%, firearm assaults 8%, robberies 9%, violent crime overall 9%, and burglaries 28%.
Cespedes noted that crime reduction is never linear, and commended the Mayor and law enforcement agencies for their commitment and persistence. But much more needs to be done – urgently – and Chief Cespedes understands that. We look forward to working with him.