Oakland police are staying tough on crime after announcing that they will extend their 30-day initiative to combat gun violence.
After eight shooting deaths within the span of a week in September, Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong called a meeting on September 27 to address the violence.
The chief accordingly planned to deploy “all available resources throughout the city in a coordinated effort to enforce crimes associated with gun violence” for the next month.
At the end of October, the department stated that it would continue the plan into the future. The goal is simple: to make arrests.
“I challenged my command staff to bring a different approach to addressing gun violence, with the goal of making an impact on public safety immediately,” Armstrong said. “I think just accepting the fact that we are going to have to arrest people, that when people commit violent crime in our city, we’re going to have to focus on apprehending them … We’re going to [focus] on those individuals that continue to drive violence.”
The recent month’s strategy to combat crime comes after a concerning rise of homicides in the city.According to police department data, Oakland had 123 homicides in 2021, marking a 21% increase from the year before and the most since 2012 — a year that saw 126 killings.
The city averaged 79 homicides a year from 2013 to 2019. This year, it has recorded 105 homicides so far. A majority of those, according to the police chief, are due to gang violence.
In addition to homicides, the city has also experienced an uptick of violent assaults and robberies.
“What led to this initiative was a really deadly September,” Armstrong explained. “The idea that we could have 17-some-odd homicides in one month was troubling for me and I’m sure was traumatic for our community.”
The chief said the decision had public support.
“I thought it was appropriate for us to be much more present in the community, not only through more officers out there but just being more aggressive when it came to focusing on those [individuals] that were driving gun violence,” he said.
And the data show the crime strategy is working. Homicides and shootings decreased by 47% and 33% respectively throughout the first month of the plan, according to a department press release. Compared to the first 10 months of the year, homicides have fallen by 10% and shootings by 25%. Police also stated that they seized 80 guns and arrested 120 “very violent” individuals.
The department says that collaboration with the community has been effective, citing 2012’s Ceasefire Program, which brought Oakland violent criminals together with community leaders, clergy and law enforcement to offer them either rehabilitation or else face criminal punishment. The Ceasefire Program was declared a success until the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Experts believe the pandemic contributed to the current spike in violence and hampered the police’s ability to fight crime.
“I think it definitely had an impact on that strategy, the continuity of that strategy, and the way that we had been working for several years was disrupted,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong blamed the pandemic for interrupting the work of violence prevention workers, combined with liberal policies such as “zero bail” that released violent criminals back on the streets.
“You cannot address gun violence if there’s no accountability,” the chief said. “I think none of us were ready for a pandemic. It took a lot of time for all of us to adjust to that. How can we hold people accountable while understanding that we also are dealing with a deadly disease that we don’t want people held in custody for?”
Over the next month, Armstrong said the department will focus on the problem of untraceable “ghost guns.”
“We’ve got to get them off our streets,” he said during a recent news conference. “We’ve seen them used in what we believe are really low-level crimes like the burglary of cars or the stealing of catalytic converters. All of them are producing gun violence.”
Asked about the steps the department will take to mitigate human rights violations, the chief said the department is employing a more focused approach, adding that traffic stops have steadily declined over the last five years.
“We can’t ignore the fact that we’ve recovered over 80 guns in a 30-day period,” he said. “This community is living in fear, and so whether advocates sit on one side or another, I hope that we can all agree that Oakland is not [as] safe as it could be and there are far too many guns in our community.”