By Barbara Grady

When drive-by shooters sprayed bullets into a funeral service at an East Oakland church in April, crisis response workers jumped into action – lunging across pews to shield young children from random bullets, pulling the grieving mother from the mayhem and carrying babies out of harm’s way.

But the crisis response support program may soon end if Oakland’s Measure Y is not refunded. The program, which provides counseling and help to families and friends of homicide victims, is entirely financed by Measure Y.

“It is a really vital program,” said Colleen Miller of Catholic Charities of the East Bay, one of the organizations that provides crisis response support. “Whenever a homicide of someone younger than 30 occurs, they (crisis response team workers) are there.”

And this is just one of the programs being threatened by the potential loss of Measure Y and the $20 million it provides to violence prevention and help for at-risk youth. Along with the programs, Measure Y funds 63 “problem-solving officers” in the Oakland Police Department whose job it is to keep the peace on neighborhood beats.

Measure Y – passed by Oakland voters in 2004 – is threatened because the language of the measure requires that the Police Department be staffed by at least 740 officers before the funding mechanism for the Measure Y tax kicks in. But the city of Oakland faces a $31 million budget deficit and is looking at a range of possible cuts. Since the Police Department absorbs about 75 percent of the city budget, the City Council will be hard pressed to avoid reducing police staffing.

Along with crisis response workers and police problem solving officers, Measure Y funds the Family Justice Center where victims of domestic violence, as well as teenage victims of commercial sex trafficking, find help that often is not available elsewhere.

It funds YouthUprising, which provides urban youth with recreational and musical outlets that are alternatives to street and gang life. It also funds programs that work to break up gang violence such as Youth Alive, and programs that occur within the Oakland schools.

“It is really alarming to a lot of us because Measure Y provides for really, really necessary services when it comes to youth at risk,” said Nicole Lee, founder of Urban Peace Movement and of the former Silence the Violence program at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

Oakland City Councilwoman Jean Quan (Dist. 4) – who chairs the council’s finance committee – has proposed amending Measure Y to suspend the 740-officer requirement for three years.

“No one foresaw that a recession so bad would come that we’d have to layoff police officers,” she said when she introduced the measure six years ago.

“Finally in its third year there is affirmation that Measure Y is working,” Quan added. “Violent crime is down. We’ve been able to cool out schools when there’s been a gang killing. Everybody says it has saved lives.”

Violent crime in Oakland is down 14 percent from a year ago, Quan said, quoting an FBI report. Last year, violent crime fell 10 percent from the year before and in 2008 it fell by 14 percent.

“We’ve been making some real success in this city with crime reduction,” Quan said. “We need Measure Y and we need to save police officers’ jobs too.”