Ahead of the trend toward criminal justice reform that has emerged in the past year, the state of California poured $2 million last year into Oakland, targeted toward breaking the crime cycle.

The funds came to Oakland, which had seen a dramatic drop in violent crime in 2013, because at the time of funding the city was still considered the most violent in all of California.

“In 2013, Oakland saw a 29 percent reduction in homicides and a 16 percent reduction in shootings, the second largest year-to-year drop in homicides since 1969,” a report about the funds from Oakland Unite stated. “Despite the reduction in violence, Oakland continues to be ranked federally as the fifth most violent city in the nation and the most violent city in California.”

Gov. Jerry Brown approved the grant spurred by former Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, who pushed for its passage before she was termed out of office.

“This is one-of-a-kind state funding to support crime prevention and re-entry programs in a community challenged with high crime rates and high levels of incarceration among its residents,” Skinner said in August when the allocation was announced.

By design, the funds went largely to infuse existing programs, according to Josie Halpern-Finnerty, program planner for Oakland Unite.

“It all happened very quickly — you have only a year to spend it. The bulk of it ($1.3 million) went to amend our grant agreements we already had to augment and expand services,” Halpern-Finnerty said.

Proven track records were important as Oakland Unite officials wanted to ensure the reductions in violence that had already been seen continued. The move appeared to be validated with year-end crime reports in 2014. Murders in the city were down 11 percent, shootings down 13 percent, and robberies and burglaries down nearly 30 percent combined, according to reports.

With the $2 million in one-time funding nearly spent, Josie Halpern-Finnerty said they have serve their intended purpose.

“It went pretty well. After talking to the state and to grantees, we didn’t try to do too many things with this new money, because that’s what we agreed we can do well,” she said.

In a report recently submitted to the city council, Sara Bedford, director of Oakland Unite, said the funds have impacted a wide number of programs.

“It has augmented existing services and allowed for more individuals impacted directly by intense violence to receive important support services,” Bedford wrote.

The money was dispersed among a wide group of service providers and programs that include employment training for formerly incarcerated young adults, academic support for youth on probation, crisis counseling and legal help for domestic violence victims, street outreach and Ceasefire case management, among other programs, according to Beford’s report.

Though the lion’s share of the money went to existing programs, the grant required some funds — not to exceed $340,000 — be used to enter into agreements with new partners, according to Bedford’s report.

Halpern-Finnerty highlighted some of the pilot programs funded, like academic assistance for youth on probation through the East Bay Asian Youth Center.

“It got off to a good start and went well. Youth were interested, so it may be something that is something that is worth funding in the next cycle,” she said.

Halpern-Finnerty said the request for proposal funding process under the recently passed Measure Z encourages innovative new projects that may not have been situated to benefit from the one-time funding grant. On Friday, Oakland Unite shared recommendations with the city council concerning the new request for proposal funding process under Measure Z that include an innovation fund, which would potentially create a foothold for new ideas and innovation to reduce violence.

“There are a lot of things that have been proven effective, but there are a number of innovative things that we are recommending that encourage innovation within the known framework of need,” she said.

Halpern-Finnerty said the recommendation of $200,000 for this innovation funds were “tiny for the moment” but would allow a foothold for new pilot programs to grow.

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