Despite a spate of shootings in West Oakland over the weekend that included the death of a young mother trying to protect her children from stray bullets on Monday afternoon, Oakland’s renewed push to curb violent crime is working, various city officials claim.

City officials agree violent crime remains a significant problem. But they also agree that current efforts have begun to pay off.

Even amid the tragedy, the violence prevention network is seeing dividends, according to Kevin Grant, Oakland Unite‘s violence prevention network coordinator, who has been busy trying stop the retaliatory violence before others, like Chyemil Pierce, 30, are killed.

“When it hits like this now, it calms down almost as quick,” Grant said Monday while driving from a hospital visit with another victim of weekend shootings. “It’s sad because it shouldn’t come to this in the first place.”

Ten years of failed attempts to launch a nationally recognized violence prevention program called Ceasefire has shown signs of finally impacting Oakland’s stubborn crime problem, according to various community, police and governmental leaders, in large part because the vital missing component of community buy-in has emerged this time around.

Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent describes the program as a three-legged stool, where each leg — the community, human services and law enforcement — are invested in the collaborative effort.

“You have to have all three. And it’s the relationship between the three of them. All of those aspects have to be supported,” Whent said.

In sharp contrast to 2003 and 2010, the results of that across-the-board buy-in are showing up in measureable ways. It’s still early, but the early results are good. Violent crime dropped by double-digit margins in 2014. Murders were down 11 percent, shootings fell 13 percent and robberies and burglaries dropped nearly 30 percent combined.

Further, clients involved in Ceasefire have a significantly lower rate of re-arrest, according to Josie Halpern-Finnerty, program planner for Oakland Unite.

An independent evaluation of Oakland Unite’s overall recidivism effort backs her up. Resource Development Associates, the independent firm chosen by the City of Oakland to evaluate its police, fire and violence prevention programs, found that Oakland Unite has targeted  “an increasingly high-risk population and achieved progressively lower recidivism rates.”

Collaboration

Ceasefire spread rapidly across the country following a 1990s pilot program based in Boston that brought together academic researchers and community workers focused on youth homicide. More than five dozen cities, including Oakland, launched efforts. Oakland’s failed, twice.

The difference with Ceasefire this time from the failed attempts in 2003 and 2010 is summed by a single word: Collaboration.

“It’s more of a joint effort of many individuals,” said Emilo Mena, an intensive case manager with Oakland Unite, “not just the city of Oakland, but faith-based partners and law enforcement partners.”

Donald Williams has observed the shift to collaboration as well, so much so that the Oakland native and 1984 graduate of McClymonds High School agreed recently to serve as a case manager for Ceasefire call-ins.

“The Ceasefire program gives people something they can see and think ‘there’s an opportunity for me through this.’” Williams said. “Previously they didn’t have the funding and resources they have now.”

Community leaders and area ministers insisted on a greater role in 2012. Many who collaborate with Ceasefire believe their insistence was vital.

Mena, whose work demands a nearly on-call schedule and close interaction with people trying to make that huge life transition away from gangs, violence and crime, agrees.

“Honestly, Ceasefire is a part of it, but again, it’s a part of many people’s efforts,” Mena said. “I don’t know how much we can own it, but I know for damn sure that all the people involved in this collaboration give it a 110 percent to try to change the negative lifestyle.”

Alternatives to violence, crime

The first interaction with Ceasefire comes in many different ways, according to Sara Serin-Christ, program analyst for Oakland Unite. Oakland Unite’s Crisis Response and Support Network Case managers respond to every homicide and shooting in the city, she said, reaching out to victims and/or the victim’s family members in support and to thwart the cycle of retaliatory violence.

“We do more intervention than prevention,” she said. “[We’re] trying to prevent further incidents.”

Outreach efforts encourage those returning from prison, and at times as a pre-trial alternative to jail sentencing, to work with Oakland Unite case managers.

Case managers assist in a variety of services including help getting a driver’s license, a social security card, anger management training, employment assistance or even basic banking skills, Serin-Christ said.

“(Oakland Unite) takes law enforcement out and puts in the community. That’s what I do. We’re trying to help them start doing normal things with everyday people, just living right,” said Williams, who came to the Ceasefire effort through a West Oakland faith-based community organization that partners with Oakland Unite.

In the end, the true test comes in the view of those on the streets, community organizers insist. When those involved in crime see no other option, bad things result. Oakland has seen far more than its share as it continues to mourn senseless killings like Monday’s death of Pierce. Nobody, from the mayor to community volunteers, is claiming victory. Not yet anyway.

“It’s still healthy skepticism and it’s going to remain until they see the results,” Williams said. “If they see a guy standing on the corner one month and then the next month they see, ‘Hey, this guy is going to work’ — when they see that, they’ll start to believe.”


This is part one in a series about Oakland’s collaborative efforts to prevent violent crime.  Visit our site tomorrow for part two.

About The Author

 A. Scot Bolsinger has won more than two dozen press awards during his journalism career. He can be reached at abolsinger@oaklandlocal.com or follow him on Twitter @EffinArtist. His work can be seen at effinartist.com

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