In the midst of almost daily shootings, there is cause for cautious optimism on Oakland's public safety front.
Police Chief Howard Jordan has been quietly laying the groundwork to launch Ceasefire -- a crime-fighting strategy that could lead to a significant reduction in street shootings if it is done correctly.
I stress "if" because of the unfortunate tendency in Oakland for city officials to reach for quick fixes in response to public pressure for action to address the violence -- i.e. the "100-block plan" -- rather than taking a step back to develop a comprehensive data-driven strategy.
City officials are putting the finishing touches on a contract with the California Partnership for Safe Communities, with a goal of rolling out Ceasefire sometime in September. The organization works with cities to create community alliances that reduce street violence -- a shift away from ineffective law enforcement tactics that have led to mass incarceration and recidivism while doing very little to stop the shooting and killing.
On Friday, city officials are meeting with community leaders and organizations to explain Ceasefire and, as Jordan says, "What it is not."
That is key given that anti-police elements can be counted on to portray the plan as an assault on African-American youth.
I wrote about Ceasefire in April -- specifically raising the question of whether the violence reduction strategy that criminologist David Kennedy helped pioneer and which has had such dramatic results in other cities could be effective in Oakland. Ceasefire cut youth homicides in Boston by two-thirds during the crack epidemic in the 1990s in what the media would dub the "Boston Miracle."
Kennedy is the director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He describes his work with Ceasefire in his memoir "Don't Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City http://amzn.to/rac9B1.
Make Oakland Better Now! and others have been pressing for Oakland to implement a Ceasefire program in Oakland for sometime now because has led to substantial declines in shootings, killings and recidivism in cities where all of the components were fully implemented.
Ceasefire is not a magic wand that stops all of the shooting and killing overnight.
It is just one crime-fighting tool that focuses on the relatively small number of people who are doing most of the shooting and getting them to stop. Law enforcement and community leaders join together to send a strong message to a select group of violent offenders that the killing must stop. That if it doesn't, there will be a focused law enforcement crackdown against those groups that persist. Those individuals who want help with substance abuse, housing, employment and other services are referred to agencies that can help them.
Certain violent criminals identified by police, probation and parole are summoned to a "call-in" meeting. On hand are representatives from local law and federal law enforcement. The district attorney and U.S. attorney. Clergy and other community members. There are also representatives from key social service agencies to help connect offenders with services.
"If you have 50 guys in the room and they change their violent behavior, Oakland will not even notice," Kennedy said in April. "But if the groups they belong to change, you will feel it all over the city."
The key is that all of the necessary elements must be in place. You can't have carrot without the stick, or visa versa.
Oakland tried Ceasefire before. It was a flop.
There was a single-minded focus on getting people jobs and services with very little meaningful police response directed at those who persisted in committing violent crimes.
The message should be whether you have a job or not, there is no excuse for shooting other people.
Jordan says he has learned from past efforts that had "limited results."
OPD is working with parole and probation to determine which of the violent offenders to target first. Jordan expects to begin focusing on groups in East Oakland and but will also target West Oakland.
If Oakland gets it right this time, we could see reductions in street shootings in the not-too distant future.
"Oakland is one of the more challenging cities in the country so I don't want to sound overconfident," says Stewart Wakeling, director of the California Partnership for Safe Communities. "But Ceasefire is designed to take effect in months. Not years."
The degree of success will depend on the level of commitment by law enforcement, city officials and the community.