In 2013, Oakland’s infamous murder stats dropped a whopping 28 percent, year to year. The community leaders who pushed to set up a full Ceasefire program, and now partner with the City, are claiming credit for most of that decline. They want those numbers to go down further, and they want the larger community to recognize the long-time commitment that has brought this change to the streets of East Oakland.

Every Friday evening in violence-plagued areas of Deep East Oakland and West Oakland, community leaders and clergy hold “Night Walks” with dozens of volunteers as a visible manifestation of love and community support. The Night Walks, which started in October of 2012, make the streets safer and help engage neighbors. They are also one very visible component of Oakland’s efforts to curb gun violence through its Ceasefire program.

DSC09321These ongoing weekly Night Walks are coordinated by Rev. Damita Davis-Howard, who works with Oakland Community Organizations (OCO). Community members gather at one of 4 sites, don new yellow “Ceasefire Oakland” jackets (or white “Lifelines to Healing” jackets) and walk through areas where shootings have occurred. Their mission is to let residents know that people care about their health and safety and want them to be alive and free. That is a moving and effective message.

The routes vary, but are within an area between Bancroft and 84th Avenue, and D Street and 98th Avenue. Participants come from all over Oakland, including the hills, but the majority are from neighborhoods in East Oakland.

This Friday at 6:30 p.m., OPD acting Chief Sean Whent will join in solidarity with the Night Walk effort. The walk will also take place at a new location: St. Louis Bertrand Church, at International Boulevard and 100th Avenue.


Ceasefire leaders Rev. Damita Davis-Howard and Barbara Lafitte-Oluwole

Rev. Damita, as she prefers to be called, explained that the Friday Night Walks, and the Ceasefire program, “…is a community-driven strategy to reduce gun violence and save lives… and it really isn’t a law enforcement tactic.” She explains further, “At its heart, [Ceasefire] is about love and community and not punishment. It’s about giving people a second chance so they don’t have to be locked up… Of course, if you talk about the loss of 2 children in 19 days, there is definitely a place for law enforcement.”

According to Rev. Ben McBride, director of City Team Oakland and one of the community leaders involved with Ceasefire, the purpose of the Night Walks is to “engage with people at high risk of committing acts of violence or at high risk to be victims of violence,”  and, via being a consistent presence, to “…build sustainable relationships with people in the communities …to transform the community.” This is essential community organizing and the goal is to reduce violence across Oakland, starting where the violence is currently the worst: Deep East Oakland.

McBride also recently wrote a “My Word” column  for the Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times stressing the role of clergy and community leaders in developing and supporting the Ceasefire program and achieving “…a 50-percent decrease in homicides in the targeted neighborhoods.” McBride states, “We do not believe our efforts to be an ancillary role, as evidenced in continued media representations and an underdeveloped framing from our civic and law enforcement leaders.”

About Ceasefire

The Ceasefire program model was developed in Boston in the 1990s by community leaders and clergy. It used community resources in partnership with law enforcement to focus on gang members and at-risk groups in areas with histories of conflict and violence. The carrot-and-stick approach offered mentoring and counseling, jobs and help completing high school, along with the threat of rigorous law enforcement and long sentences in distant prisons.

In Boston, and later in Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis and Cincinnati, Ceasefire programs reduced murders and gun violence by 30-44 percent. It is now a national model program with federal support (via the National Network for Safe Communities, or NNSC) and is widely viewed as one of the most effective strategies for dealing with gang-related violence.

DSC09844Research on Ceasefire’s impact over the last two decades by the Center for Crime Prevention shows that the increased safety and order in a neighborhood encourages residents to follow legal and social norms and solve problems cooperatively. This position is also supported by the California Partnership for Safe Communities, which has advised the City of Oakland in setting up its Ceasefire program. For more details on the national Ceasefire methodology, view this article.

Ceasefire in Oakland

The roots of Oakland Ceasefire program actually go back to the first years of the City’s Measure Y program to curb youth violence. At that time, the murder rate in West Oakland was higher than it is now, and several community activists pursued a Measure Y grant to develop additional strategies to reduce gun violence.

One of the leaders of that effort was Barbara Lafitte-Oluwole of West Oakland, who has been affiliated with Oakland Community Organizations [OCO] for over 15 years. OCO is member of the PICO National Network, which works in over 150 US cities to reduce violence in partnership with NNSC. It has programs focusing on public safety, immigration reform, neighborhood revitalization, and youth. It was the Oakland effort, led by OCO and other clergy, that actually had coined the “Lifelines to Healing” title of PICO’s national program.

A group of community leaders started meeting in 2007 and began to advocate for implementing the full Ceasefire program with community and city government partnerships. In 2009, OCO and other community groups met with Jeff Brown, one of the founders of the “Boston Miracle,” and they also went to Highpoint, North Carolina, to see Ceasefire being implemented there. A delegation of Oakland church leaders also went to New York City, with Rev. George Cummings of Imani Church, to attend a conference of Ceasefire advocates. These were the efforts that laid the groundwork for implementing a Ceasefire partnership in Oakland.

In 2010, there were efforts at street outreach and even some community-hosted call-ins with gang members, but these steps were not well coordinated with OPD, the City, and the DA’s office. Many of these early call-ins were held in West Oakland and included clergy and representatives from organizations like Men of Valor, Oakland United, and CiviCorp.


Rev. Alfred Smith Jr. (center) with Council member Larry Reid and Mayor Jean Quan at the launch of the community component of Ceasefire in Allen Temple Baptist Church, September 2012.

In September of 2012, then-Police Chief Howard Jordan joined community leaders in announcing PICO’s “Oakland Lifelines to Healing” project at Allen Temple Baptist Church as a key partner of the City’s renewed Ceasefire program. Over 200 Oaklanders attended the community meeting, which outlined the Lifelines strategy and called for community members to participate.

“People don’t know that Ceasefire is a community-driven strategy,” said Rev. Damita. “Leaders like Barbara [Lafitte-Oluwole] and Rev. Cummings have insisted that the city needed something to address the high rate of gun violence and asked for Ceasefire as a viable strategy to save lives.”

Role of clergy in Ceasefire

Reygan-oak025965Reygan Harmon, who is now the City’s program manager for Ceasefire, worked with community leaders to set up the the program and obtain a federal grant to start the program.  Harmon was the Mayor’s Senior Policy Advisor for Public Safety in 2011 and 2012, and acted as the interim manager for Ceasefire then.

“I think all of our community partners, and especially our faith-based partners, have played a tremendous part, all of them, like Dr. Cummings, Rev. Ben McBride, and Rev. Damita, and Pastor Dixon, they’ve participated in all of the call-ins,” Harmon said.

“They also participate in ‘custom notifications’ [which are basically meetings between a single ‘person of interest’ and an OPD representative and a community leader], and they participate in all the planning meetings. They do play a huge role and I do agree with them that sometimes the media latches on the the law enforcement part and disregards the community effort and the services part.”

Harmon added, “I remember at the OPD press conference in March, when Rev. Damita and Dr. Cummings actually spoke about Ceasefire, no one [in the media] quoted them.”

The initial call-in program actually started in West Oakland before Ceasefire was formally launched, according to Barbara Lafitte-Oluwole, who is an OCO staffer. “OCO, the City and OPD are currently focused on East Oakland because more of the violence is now centered there. We focused on West Oakland earlier because of the violence there. But our pastors feel that people should be walking all over Oakland,” to reduce violence, she added. “OCO started the East Oakland Night Walks, and we are now also doing Night Walks in West Oakland to build better relationships in the community and to let people know that we care. “

From Pastor Dixon’s perspective, “Without the Night Walks, there is noIMG_1048-Dixon-crop partnership, no expression of the community in Cease Fire. The Night Walks say we care, we love you, we want to keep you free and alive, and we want the shootings and killing to stop.”

He said he is gratified to see a 28-percent reduction in the murder rate from year to year. “This is first time this kind of reduction has happened in 114 years … these are real reductions, so we are doing a real job.” Rev. Dixon added, “We expect more reductions in the coming year; we are hoping for another 25-30 percent drop.”

Mayor Jean Quan has joined in many Ceasefire Night Walks. She said, P1020749-mjq-walkers-90th-2-crop“The success of Ceasefire is directly tied to the leadership  of the faith community, especially Bishop Cummings of Imani Church, who has chaired the process. The involvement of trusted leaders of the African-American community in offering real options … those involved in violence and perpetration of violence is essential. We could not have done it without them. The weekly dedication of leaders like Rev. Damita brings churchly love to the streets on Fridays and I and my husband are proud to join her and her supporters as often as I can.”

The Mayor’s Media spokesperson, Sean Maher, was also supportive of the organizations and leaders who partner with the City: “We are in an ongoing effort with the media to pay attention to the role of the community in Ceasefire. The police department plays a critical role in reducing violence, but no matter who you ask in the city or the police department, they’ll say it has to be a team effort.”

7 Responses

  1. Martin Ricard

    As an OCO staff member, I wanted to respond on behalf of our organization by saying, first of all, thank you for setting the record straight that Ceasefire is a community-driven, evidence-based approach to reducing the gun violence in Oakland. Too often, when stories have mentioned Ceasefire, they’ve only mentioned the city and police part, which diminishes the overall credibility of the strategy because of the lack of trust in our city’s government.

    However, to say that community leaders are “claiming credit for most of the decline” in homicides isn’t totally accurate and doesn’t speak to what really makes Ceasefire work in Oakland: the partnership. So here’s a breakdown of how the partnership works and why we ultimately give credit to last year’s drop in homicides to the entire Ceasefire partnership:

    1. The Ceasefire strategy is driven by a community-police partnership, including clergy, street outreach, service providers and other law enforcement agencies. This partnership uses data to understand who is at highest risk of shooting or being killed.

    2. The Ceasefire partnership engages with those at highest risk of being involved in violence through direct communication (often in the form of “call in” meetings).

    3. In this communication, the community makes clear that they care about these individuals but that we need the violence to stop; law enforcement provides clear information on the special enforcement attention they will give to groups that persist with violence; and special help is offered for those who would like to change (this is not a “carrot and stick” approach).

    4. The strategy is enhanced though tightly coordinated and disciplined community-level efforts using street outreach workers (Measure Y) and the faith community and community leaders (night walks). In particular, night walks involving clergy and community leaders play a meaningful role in reducing violence because they provide a message of hope that Ceasefire can stop the killings without sending more people to jail and build a culture of peace and healing in our community.

  2. Oakie

    I know that Mayor Quan has proclaimed her great success in reducing the murder rate last year, compared to 2012, by a whopping 28%. In this article the people who bring you OC also wants full credit for that.

    Well, so far in 2014, we have had 9 murders. Compared to 7 in 2013 for the same time period. That’s a 28% increase.

    So are Quan and the OC folks both taking full responsibility for the murder rate going up 28% just since last year? I can’t hear you……..

    Can’t have it both ways. Either take credit for the rise in murder rates or don’t take credit for the dip in 2012.

    Let’s look at the statistical data regarding murders in Oakland.

    Here are the annual murder totals by year, starting with 2000:

    The mean is 108. I just ran a standard deviation on them: 19. So that “great success” of reducing the murder rate to 92 last year still fell well within a single deviation from the mean.

    That 92 is no outlier, Bosco. In fact, anyone here so convinced of the magical powers of OC to take a bet on whether the 2014 murder tally will exceed the 2013 number, 92? Any takers?

    Do you know what statistic could indicate a true change in crime rates? Central Park on Manhattan had 152 robberies in 1990. Do you know how many robberies they had in 2013?


    Now there’s something to brag about. But not what’s happening on the killing streets of Oakland. New York had it’s New York Miracle. We have no Oakland Miracle, no matter how hard you close your eyes and imagine it.

  3. Martin Ricard

    Let me add this: It’s very easy to point the finger in Oakland and stay apathetic, continuing the notion that nothing will ever change. But instead of complaining about what’s not being done or what can’t be done, why not work on the solutions? If you joined a night walk on a Friday night in East or West Oakland, you might see that violence can be reduced when you show people how to love one another. If you took an hour of your Saturday and stood with a SAVE stand in, you might see that opinions can be changed when a homicide victim is honored rather than being allowed to become another statistic. If you got involved with what Youth UpRising, Youth Alive, EBAYC and other groups are doing, you’d see that violence is being attacked from so many angles in Oakland. Oftentimes, what’s missing are enough people believing that things can change. Isn’t believing the first step to making a miracle happen?

  4. Oakie

    Oh, don’t misunderstand my comment. I’m not apathetic. Just not buying the bs being piled on here.

    I would suggest starting by analyzing the only crime reduction miracle that has any validity and seeing in what ways that could be applied to Oakland. I’ve been beating my head against this wall for more than 10 years now, and I haven’t seen a gnat’s worth of spit from people actually doing this.

    There’s a guy at Cal named Zimmer who has extensively studied the NYC Miracle. The book’s at the library here. Also, there’s a book by Bratton about his time there.

    The funny thing is that NONE of the policies you are promoting were used there. And their crime rate went down more than 80%, to the point where NY state had a prison problem.

    A prison problem because they had so few inmates that they needed to close prisons (which the guard union fought, of course). Seriously.

    Btw, I asked Zimmer in person what he thought of OC and he diplomatically said it was unproven yet. I read that to mean he thought it was bs (until it is actually proven to work).

  5. Len Raphael

    Martin, you’re the first person I’ve heard to say that Oakland’s version of Ceasefire is not a “carrot and stick” approach where law enforcement is required to come down hard on most violent people who refuse to participate in the program. The oft heard reason for failure of the 2009-2011 Federally funded Oakland Ceasefire is usually that there was no stick to.

    Don’t know if that’s good or bad.

    It’s not enough to declare that this is an “evidence based” or in the current lingo “data driven” program. Nor is it enough to do what the Measure Y evaluation for 2011-12 did to answer the crucial question as to whether public spending on CF or any other Measure Y program or for that matter, more police, is the best use of the City’s limited funds. The evaluators came up with program cost per participant and compared that to the high cost of prosecution/incarceration, pronouncing most of the Measure Y programs successful.

    We need statistically valid data and reliable evaluations that allow us to compare different programs and different approaches to both violence and property crime reduction, so we can figure out where to best spend our money. We need to figure out however roughly, what the effect is on reducing overal city crime rates.

  6. A

    I agree with you Oakie that the drop in murders last year wasn’t a true indication that any program was working. As you pointed out, if Oakland can maintain this downward trend over the course of several years, then yes, you can say “X” program worked.

    Sadly, last year is just another year where too many people were killed but yet people are trying to pat themselves on the back that at least it wasn’t as many as the year before.

  7. LeslieL

    “All great things start small”

    Paraphrasing from the French diplomat, Mr. Dryden in “Lawrence of Arabia”, the movie, it is a comment on ” insignificant” small bands of Arab tribes in revolt against the Turks during WWI.


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