I'm scared. But I am not afraid to admit it. I live a middle-class life in a middle-class Oakland neighborhood, but I won't tell you what neighborhood because I'm scared.
An underlying fear of crime is a constant with my Oakland actions. Before I depart in the morning, I peer out my living room window, making sure my car hasn't been stolen during the night. When I exit my home, I take a cautionary look around, as I know it's prudent to be certain that no one is lying in wait. And when I come home at a dark hour, I case my own block with apprehension and exit my car with astute caution.
I am neither paranoid nor Republican. To the contrary, my middle-class neighbors and I have an objectively reasonable basis for this fear. You see, in my nice, overpriced, and I must say, beautiful Oakland neighborhood, people have been robbed at gunpoint, houses have been broken into and cars have been stolen (mine included). I am simply tired of this fear that has infused my everyday Oakland existence.
But my fear and middle-class status by no means make my fear special. Rather, my fear reaches all Oaklanders. It transcends both neighborhood and class. For decades nothing done by Oakland government has effectively addressed crime. Nothing. It is high time we recognize this abject failure and change the paradigm of law enforcement.
It is an absolute myth that the answer is more police, just as it is a myth that more money for social programs
These approaches are nonsense and represent nothing more than self-interested political platforms designed to pander to our fears and our hearts (bleeding or otherwise). That is why I say as a liberal Democrat, that I am equally tired of being asked to pay higher taxes for more police and social programs when I know that these approaches don't work. Accordingly, I won't support such new taxes nor politicians who so advocate.
But there is hope if we are willing to transcend our own politics and divorce ourselves from the conventional approach to law enforcement. Having spent years in the trenches, David Kennedy, a criminology professor at New York's John Jay School of Criminal Justice, has developed an approach to crime prevention that has proved successful in reducing violence and eliminating drug markets and related crimes in some of our nation's worst neighborhoods.
Kennedy's approach, well documented in his book "Don't Shoot," requires a collaboration of community and religious leaders, crime victims and their families, police, federal and county prosecutors, probation officers, social workers, and private enterprise.
But Kennedy's approach works only when the stakeholders give up their political agendas, share power and act in a proactive fashion. While Oakland is finally attempting to employ Kennedy's program on a small scale, the needed commitment to change is absent.
Instead, Oakland hired former New York City and Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton as a "consultant."
At best, Bratton's track record demonstrates an aggressive, more efficient status quo approach. But it's simply stupid to repeat the same approach that has not worked in the first place. Shouldn't Oakland hire Kennedy instead of Bratton when we know Kennedy's paradigm change to fighting crime actually works? Can't we do anything right in Oakland besides good restaurants?
Mark Cohen is a resident of Oakland and a criminal defense and civil litigation lawyer.