Over 400 clergy and community leaders packed St Columba Catholic Church on Thursday night, March 18th, to be motivated and inspired by violence intervention strategies that are proving successful here in Oakland and across the country. The crowd was filled with spirit and hope as they learned about a different approach for handling gun violence in our city, an approach based on the power of redemption, by extending a lifeline to people who want to turn their lives around.
For three years, Oakland Community Organizations has worked with the Oakland Police Department and Department of Human Services, on a focused intervention strategy that combines street outreach with “call-in” interventions. Based on data that shows that most violent crime is committed by a small percentage of people, these strategies intervene directly in the lives of those people, connecting them with resources, opportunity and consequences. This strategy has been helping reduce violent crime in 46 US cities, including Cincinnati, Providence and Boston.
OCO leaders fought for Oakland to invest in street outreach workers, who currently go into our toughest neighborhoods to interact with young people connected to cycles of violence and offer them support and resources. In addition to taking to the streets, Oakland police, social services, community, clergy, and job providers “call-in” young people for an intervention with law enforcement, religious leaders and community resources.
“Call-ins let me say, ‘Stop the violence, or I’m going to take you to jail,’” said Oakland Police Captain Paul Figueroa. “Now I can say, ‘I’m also going to show you a way out.’”
In Oakland, the overall crime rate in Oakland is down by a third. According to Oakland Chief of Police Anthony Batts, “Usually crime fluctuates five to seven percent. When you’re having dramatic drops of 37, 27 and 30, that means we’re going in the right direction. Those are huge numbers.”
Dante Ingram, a street outreach worker from Cincinnati, OH, shared his success story at the action. He said he used to sell drugs and take the easy way out, until a street outreach worker came along and gave him some options. “Now I have a choice after I committed six felonies. I’m here to tell you these young men can be saved.”
Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher concurred. “There is another way of resolving conflict without killing each other, but everyone has to be committed. The community must come together and include people we’ve looked at as being lost for life.”
Nassau County, New York Assistant District Attorney Risco Mention-Lewis told the crowd, “It’s not just about reducing crime. It’s about young people feeling the worth of their souls for once and forever.” One year after rolling out the intervention program, Nassau County saw a 74 percent drop in crime.
OCO leaders asked elected officials to take leadership and find an additional $1 million dollars to expand Oakland street outreach to 25 full-time workers, to sustain and expand the call-ins, and to have a point person enagaging the community in hands-on support for these approaches.
At-Large City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan emerged as the true champion, agreeing with OCO leader Kendra Dunlap that “Oakland deserves better!” She committed to work with OCO to raise $1 million dollars to take Oakland street outreach to scale.
Ultimately, as OCO leaders reminded the audiance and elected officials, we are talking about the value of human lives, and we can’t put a price tag on that. It is our moral responsibility to prioritize the lives of young people in our city, and OCO leaders intend do just that.
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