Is Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s 100-block crime initiative working to reduce the city’s debilitating crime problem, or is it just moving city resources to one part of the city, as crime spreads to areas where there are now fewer officers?
During an unusual Monday night meeting, with May Day protests looming, the Oakland City Council debated the city’s crime reduction strategy that includes Quan’s 100-block initiative, discussing as a group for the first time a strategy devised by the mayor’s office that focuses city resources and crime prevention efforts on the 100 blocks where most of the violent crime in the city occurs. The plan was devised six months ago and was rolled out at the beginning of the year.
The early returns aren’t positive. Violent crime numbers are up from this time last year—murders up by 23 percent and aggravated assault by 5 percent. But councilmembers and Quan were divided about just why crime is up, and if the initiative just needs more time to work.
“When I look at the numbers, I have to say that I am concerned if this is working or not,” said councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente (District 5). “The simple fact that is absolutely clear is that we have 43 people that have died in this city, which is a lot higher than we had last year. And at the shootings are higher. And the robberies are higher. That’s what the numbers show.”
Just about all of the public speakers at the meeting—many from West Oakland, which is not in the 100 block area but where more officers were reassigned when the department was reorganized last summer—were in support of the plan, because it is a coordinated effort by city departments, not just by the police. “If we all work together, we can reduce crime,” said Barbara Montgomery, the chair of a West Oakland neighborhood Neighborhood Crime Prevention Counci.
But if the police are concentrating on one part of town, that means others are being neglected, said councilmember Desley Brooks (District 6). “Displacing crime is not a goal, that’s not a crime reduction strategy,” Brooks said.
Jane Brunner (District 1) said that robbery numbers for Bureau of Field Operations 1, an area of town that includes North Oakland, West Oakland and downtown, have spiked as well. “When you have safer neighborhoods that are doing ok, and then crime starts increasing, you have to make sure they stay safe as you concentrate on more dangerous neighborhoods,” Brunner said.
Police Chief Howard Jordan said that the department supports the plan because it’s the “most effective and efficient manner for us to use available resources,” he told the council on Monday, “putting cops where we think crime is going to be committed.” He also said the plan will help “rebuild trust in the community” by collaborating more with NCPC and neighborhood watch groups, and other city agencies.
Jordan said that while crime numbers are up, and the department should be held accountable when they do rise, other factors need to be taken into account as well. The shooting at Oikos University, which claimed seven people’s lives, has driven up the murder count, he pointed out. Additionally, he said, more officers are needed—the number of officers has been reduced from more than 800 officers two years ago to about 650 now.
“Before we start to talk about how effective the city’s strategic plan is going to be about reducing violence, we need to have an honest conversation about staffing the police department,” Jordan said. “The reality is there’s not enough to go around.”
Quan said the plan will work, it just needs more time. She said crime was on the rise when the plan was being implemented, and that it’s not the cause of a crime spike. She said she’s spoken to residents who live in that 100-block area who “have never felt safer” and mentioned a woman she met with who said she is reading the newspaper on her front porch for the first time in years.
“I don’t want to continue something if it’s not working,” Quan said. “But there are some promising things happening and that’s really before we’ve gotten all the resources working.”