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A man in a black T-shirt with "Oakland" on it stands at. a microphone addressing the public safety committe on Sept. 12.

Oakland City Council commits to funding 24 prevention programs to address violent crime

on September 27, 2023

Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention narrowly avoided a multi-million dollar budget cut in an 11th-hour reprieve by the City Council.

Because of a looming $360 million budget shortfall, the cityhad proposed cutting an estimated $5.7 million from the DVP in its 2023-2024 budget. This reduction would have forced the DVP to cut funding from several violence prevention organizations that offer community-building strategies, including juvenile justice reform, youth leadership training, legal literacy training, and voter awareness.

With a unanimous vote Sept. 19, the council awarded the DVP a $28 million budget, allowing it to fully fund 24 violence prevention and intervention organizations for the next two years. A support campaign waged by Oakland Unified School District high school students and faculty helped secure this funding. 

Launched in 2022, the DVP’s School Violence Intervention and Prevention Program has received strong positive feedback, according to Jenny Linchey, the program’s deputy chief of grants.

“Anecdotally we have been hearing overwhelmingly positive feedback,” Linchey said. “Teachers and administrators are overwhelmed with all that they have to deal with; they’re also not trained in addressing these forms of violence, so having people who are trained and dedicated to working with students at the school sites is really impactful.”

This was enough to sway City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas and the city’s Public Safety Committee. 

“My budget team and I have worked very hard to preserve the deep investment that we made in violence prevention in 2021,” Bas said during a Public Safety Committee meeting on Sept. 12, referencing an $18 million investment in violence prevention in 2021, followed by a $2.1 million investment in 2023.

The DVP was created in 2017 to curb violent crime by funding local nonprofits that focus on gang and gun violence, gender-based violence, and community healing and restoration. This work includes legal support, job training, mental health care access, education access, housing placement and relocation, life coaching and more. 

Such services may be especially necessary given Oakland’s recent violent crime wave, with 1,500 violent crimes per every 100,000 residents as of Aug. 4. The vast majority of the public speakers asked the committee not to defund the DVP. 

A handful of detractors at the City Council meeting doubted the DVP’s effectiveness. Tuan Anh waved a sign that read, “STOP wasting $28+ million on YOUR ineffective ‘violence prevention program.’” 

“There’s no metrics or transparency for this program, and yet you just keep dumping more money,” Ahn said during the meeting. “People are dying and you guys are dumping money in feel-good programs without hard data.”

Kaila Mathis of the Urban Peace Movement, a local violence prevention organization, believes that Oakland benefits from community intervention through groups that provide an alternative to the police. 

“It’s really a way to introduce new forms of healing to a community that’s heavily impacted and heavily relies on police,” Mathis said. “As a system, as a whole, as a country, we focus on punitive measures versus holistic measures and our community — especially Oakland — that’s what we need.” 

Local rapper and activist Stanley Cox (AKA Mistah F.A.B) commended the DVP and its contractors last week for their youth outreach. “These are the people that are reaching the children that have been excommunicated from the rest of society,” Cox said. “When you feel like you’ve been abandoned by the village, you will burn the village down.”

(Top photo: Dan Schmitz, project leader at Oakland Youth Employment Program, which is part of the Department of Violence Prevention, addresses the Public Safety Committee. By Raymond Matthews)

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