Oakland to participate in national program to curb violence
on September 30, 2014
In dual news conferences in Oakland and Washington D.C., Congresswoman Barbara Lee and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that Oakland and Richmond have been named by the Justice Department as part of a new national program that Holder called an “all-hands approach to curbing endemic violence” in five U.S. communities with high violent crimes rates.
“If we want to reduce violence in our East Bay communities, we must work together,” Lee (D-Oakland) told reporters Tuesday morning, alongside other officials including Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, outside the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building in downtown Oakland. The program, called the Violence Reduction Network, is an “effective way of using resources to achieve a comprehensive regional approach to violence reduction,” she said.
The Violence Reduction Network initiative is a collaborative, data-driven effort between the Justice Department and the chosen communities—Oakland; Richmond; Chicago; Detroit; Wilmington, Delaware; and Camden, New Jersey—that will grant cities federal resources to fight crime on a local level. Quan said the Justice Department selected cities that are making steady progress despite high crime and violence rates. “We have to get the guns off the street,” Lee said. “We have to invest in community programs. We have to have more federal resources to work for our young people.”
Lee also noted the efforts of California Congressmen George Miller (D-Richmond) and Eric Swalwell (D-Hayward), as well as Quan, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, and San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy, all three of whom attended the Oakland news conference. Given recent cutbacks in public funding, “these proposals are even more competitive now,” Lee said. “The advocacy on the part of these individuals really led to the inclusion of Oakland and Richmond in the Violence Reduction Network initiative.”
The two-year program calls for specialized regional training for law enforcement officers and ready access to Justice Department resources, including technical help from federal agents for police and public safety leaders. The Violence Reduction Network is expected to hold several federal summits based in Washington, D.C. that will bring the partnered cities together to discuss how to improve the safety of their communities.
This week’s inaugural summit, which began Monday and will run through Wednesday, will address issues like using new technology to reduce violence, targeting repeat victimization and domestic violence, developing local and federal prosecution strategies, using smart policing and evidence-based policing strategies, and more.
The five sites are supposed to communicate with each other about their efforts as well, Quan said. “They want us to share our experiences within this network of five cities—what’s working, what’s not working,”Quan said.
Each community will have one Department of Justice contact person, a “Strategic Site Liaison,” who is supposed to help coordinate each city’s existing anti-violence strategies, suggest new approaches, and help identify new agency grants the city might not know about.
Louis F. Quijas, who previously headed the Office of Law Enforcement Coordination for the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, was named Strategic Site Liaison for the cities of Richmond and Oakland. His career in law enforcement spans 29 years.
Lee said the Violence Reduction Network is part of an effort to direct more federal resources to public safety. Last Wednesday, Quan also announced that Oakland would receive a $1.8 million federal grant from the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). Part of the COPS Hiring Program, which Holder said allocated $124 million to support select police departments across the country, the Oakland grant will be used to hire 15 new police officers. “In the age of shrinking federal dollars, state and local budgets, we have to leverage every dollar we can to develop, innovate and implement the most effective strategies to reduce violence,” she said.
Lee said that although the program is in its early stages, the Justice Department would set up ways to quantify results. “There’s not a dollar amount that’s been established for this,” she said, when asked how much money had been set aside to fund Oakland’s participation in the two-year pilot program. She emphasized that being one of the program’s initial five sites is a unique opportunity. “We would never have these resources had it not been for being one of the official pilots.”
Holder, in a statement distributed from Washington before his own news conference there, said the initiative would improve the Justice Department’s support of local officials and law enforcement in advancing anti-violence strategies in their communities. “Although violent crime is in some ways a fundamentally local problem, it is not one that any community can meet in isolation,” said Holder. “If we hope to counter these evolving threats—and address the underlying conditions that most often breed them, it’s become increasingly clear that we will need to collaborate more closely and work together more cooperatively, than ever before.”
Holder said that despite a steady decline in U.S. crime rates in recent years (the national rate of violent crime reported to the FBI in 2012 was about half of that reported in 1993), too many U.S. cities are inundated with poverty, unemployment and an overall lack of opportunity that can often “trap people in lives of crime and incarceration.”
According to the Justice Department, between 2008 and 2012 Oakland’s violent crime rates exceeded the national average by 428 percent; Richmond by 269 percent; Chicago by 288 percent; Detroit by 485 percent; Wilmington by 438 percent; Camden by 598 percent. “Washington simply does not have, and cannot offer, a one-size-fits-all solution to the problems that communities face,” said Holder. “But the federal government can, and in fact, must, play an important role in making local solutions more easily attainable.”
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