Make Oakland Better Now consulted with Chief Guillermo Cespedes concerning his plans for the Department of Violence Prevention (DVP) and how to stem violent crime in Oakland. Cespedes described a Violence Prevention and Intervention Strategy that combines a public health and community-driven approach. This plan, which we fully support, is an important step towards reducing Oakland’s violent crime. Read our summary below:
If Oakland is going to prevent violent crime, it will need many voices, leaders, and resources. The following elements guide the concept of a community-driven model:
- Communities identify the specific problems and participate in the solutions applied to that problem.
- Communities are provided capacity building tools to identify problems and implement solutions.
- All members of the community are considered legitimate stakeholders, including those who have been victims and/or perpetrators of violence.
- All community-centered strategies focus on behavior, not identity.
Violence as a Public Health Issue
In general terms, Chief Cespedes describes the the public health approach to violent crime as one that views violence as a contagious disease that can be stopped by providing effective “medicine” (concentrated programming) at individual, family, peer, school and community levels. This approach is most effective when the medicine is applied in specific places, with specific populations, during the times that the disease is most acute.
The public health approach is comprised of the following elements:
- Paying attention to underlying risk factors that create and reinforce violence in specific communities;
- Interventions at the individual, family, peer group, school and community level;
- An emphasis on specific populations at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of risk. (More on this subject below)
- Evidence-informed interventions that examine specific people, places, months of the year, days of the week, and times of the day.
Chief Cespedes described the specific geographic areas that have a documented level of violence. These spots can be as small as four square miles. Populations within these areas will receive four types of services simultaneously:
- Primary prevention services. These are for community members between the ages of 8 and 17 years of age who live in high-risk areas but are not involved in delinquent behaviors. This approach, which includes youth development services, can be compared to providing the necessary preventive medicine protects against the disease of violence before it starts.
- Secondary prevention services. This involves individual and family-based services for community members between the ages of 8 and 17 years of age who are involved in relatively low-level delinquent activities. (Family, in this context, is inclusive of whatever structure is present, rather than the idealized two-parent family.) The goal is to prevent this population from escalating involvement in violence, thus becoming more “contaminated.”
- Tertiary level services. This intervention involves individual and family services for justice involved community members between the ages of 8 and 30 years of age.
- Relational policing. In addition, the DVP will provide consultation on “relational policing” activities, defined as those actions aimed at establishing a non-transactional relationship between police and community in which the handcuffs are the last, as opposed to the first, resort. (The DVP does not implement relational policing activities, only consultation.)
Changing Community Norms
In addition to the focused interventions directed at different populations, the DVP’s public health and community-driven approach seeks to change community norms through campaigns and macro-level school and community-based interventions.
Chief Cespedes has guided successful implementation of this Public Health / Community-Driven Approach in Los Angeles* and has provided consultation on the public health model to cities through Central America, the Caribbean, and in North Africa. Addressing the violence in this targeted way, Cespedes notes, is the most effective way of inoculating the entire city against a city-wide violence epidemic.
Oakland has much to do. We are glad to see that homicide and violent crime have gone down over the past five years. But still, in 2019, homicide was up 12% over the year before, and violent crime was up 5% over the year before. There is much to be done. But Chief Cespedes’ plan is a big part of it, and we support him.
*The Los Angeles implementation reduced 9 categories of part one crime including homicides by almost 50%. LA has sustained these reductions as it has completed 10 consecutive years with less than 300 homicides for a city with 4 million residents.