This is a complex year for violent crime prevention and police operations in Oakland. As shown just a few days ago on Oaktalk, violent crime between January 1 and May 23 of this year has increased horribly: The comparison between last year and this year to date:
1/1/20 – 5/23/20 1/1/21-5/23/21 Percentage change
Murder: 22 51 132%
Aggravated Assault: 1,132 1,387 23%
Firearm assault: 131 237 81%
Homicide + firearm assault: 154 291 89%
Robbery 987 1,083 10%
Firearm & knife robbery 377 485 29%
While there are variances, some of the non-violent crimes are also increasing.
Many Oaklanders, including most in the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, strongly believe it is time to devote resources to multiple entities and services other than sworn police officers for reducing violent crime – a position MOBN! generally agrees with. There is also a great deal of support for “defunding the police.” We disagree with this, as does the majority of Oakland voters, as shown in the December, 2020- January 2021 Oakland Budget Advisory Commission Survey, indicating that a minority of voters in every district believe there should be fewer police officers. Similarly, the annual Oakland Chamber of Commerce community survey in October, 2020 showed that a majority of Oakland voters favored either maintaining the current number of police officers (27%) or increasing the number (31%). With the voters views and the horrible violent crime rates, much has to happen.
This post is not intended to discuss all the things that need to be done. But we want to note that we have recently seen very positive evidence about recent developments in the Oakland Police Department that are well worth sharing.
The current Chief of Police, LeRonne Armstrong, was sworn in more than three months ago at McClymond Highschool, where, as a native of Oakland, he graduated many decades ago. He has publicly reported that he grew up distrusting police. However, as reported in Oaklandside, he joined OPD in 1999 after four years working with the Alameda County Probation Department. During his 22-year OPD career, he’s worked as a patrol officer and sergeant, as a robbery and burglary investigator, and supervisor of OPD’s gang intelligence task force, among other roles. He holds a master’s degree in organizational leadership. From ten years ago, has held leadership positions with the Oakland Black Officers Association, a group that advocates for Black officers and helps build police-community relations. Around 2014 he helped lead the department’s work analyzing police stop data and implementing policies to reduce the racially disproportionate impact of stops and searches. He was promoted to deputy chief in 2017.
The fact that Chief Armstrong is so much a part of Oakland both informs his decisions about police strategy and leads the community to trust him. That trust is necessary for reducing violence.
Chief Armstrong has been involved in many online interviews and press conferences. One of the most fascinating ones was his interview on May 12, talking about police reform, its importance and what he will do in its favor. It is on YouTube, here.
A very positive and recent department hiring was of Brigitte Cook as the department’s Victim’s Specialist. MOBN!’s board had great experience with Brigitte when she was Chief of Staff and Director of Community Engagement for former Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney. Ms. Cook is one of the co-founders of Violence Prevention Coalition. She also volunteers with the Family Support Advocacy Task Force, Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere, and the Oakland Frontline Healers. One of the MOBN! board members, Bruce Nye, felt privileged to serve with Ms. Cook on the County’s Safety Impact.
As the Victim’s Specialist, Brigitte Cook will serve as an advocate for victims of violent crimes and their families. This is important in many ways. The appointment of Ms. Cook, with her deep roots in the violence prevention community, brings a necessary understanding to her work with victims’ families, which will help ease their trauma and reduce potential future violence that could be a consequence of that trauma.
Chief LeRonne Armstrong