COMM3224 Story 2: Oakland – Place to be, not just for crimes!

“No matter who you are or where you come from, there is a place for you here. You’ll be appreciated, valued and celebrated for what you bring to the table – as crazy you may or may not be,” said Kramer joyfully. In August 2009, 22 year old AK Kramer moved to Oakland. Back in San Diego, where she went to college, she had an acquaintance who is from Oakland. She had these terrible stereotypes of Oakland like “people living on the streets” and “drug addictive parents”. However, after four years living in Oakland, the city became her favorite place in the world.She doesn’t deny that Oakland has major problems with theft, violent crimes and drugs. Oakland is listed as one of the most dangerous cities in the United States. In 2012 there were 131 reported homicides, the highest since 2006 at 148. According to FBI statistics in 2011, the City has recorded one robbery for every 91 residents. That is the highest rate of any major American city since 2000, which ranks it at the top of the list. During the first half of 2012 the FBI’s data shows that the robbery rate in Oakland is 36% higher than Cleveland, the second ranked city. Violent crime is a serious problem specifically in East and West Oakland.

“I live in West Oakland, which would be considered like the ‘hood’,” AK said. She considers that the lower income communities live in East and West Oakland. Therefore people would say that it is a more dangerous area. In spite of the fact that there are many incidents of crimes or theft in her neighborhood, AK is confident that they are outweighed by the community, “People are very welcomed and praised; there is endless cultures, there is endless opportunities; the housing market is still pretty affordable – it’s beautiful”.

One reason for the high crime rates in Oakland is the large socio-economic divide, which goes back more than 100 years, where rich people lived in the hills and poor people lived in the flat lands. With that disparity of wealth it’s almost indispensable that the lower income communities are often led to different crimes in order to get by. According to U.S. Census data from 2007 to 2011 20% of the Oakland’s population fell below the federal poverty line.

One problem in Oakland is the reputation of the police department. Joe DeVries, the Neighborhood Services Supervisor of Oakland’s Neighborhood Services Division (NSD) says, “Historically the [Oakland] Police Department has done a really bad job in the community […].” In his perspective it’s has been single incidents, mostly caused by individuals, which have led to the bad reputation of the Oakland Police Department (OPD). He mentions the “Black Panther Party” which was founded in the 1960s in Oakland to protect black neighborhoods from police brutality, and the notorious “Riders Lawsuit” in 2002 where four OPD police Officers were accused of kidnapping, planting evidence on innocent people, and beating citizens. For the latter the City had to pay almost $11 million to 119 victims who pressed lawsuits for the unlawful actions of the four officers. Apparently the City of Oakland had to pay more than $57 million in claims, lawsuits and settlements involving alleged police misconduct in the years from 2001 to 2011.

The OPD has to win back the people’s trust. That’s what the NSD is working on. “We are really dedicated to having the police do a better job in the neighborhood. But we are trying to turn around a big ship that has been moving in the wrong direction for a long time,” DeVries said.

The NSD’s goal is to increase the involvement of residents in crime prevention. In the early 90s the city adopted community-policing as a policy for how the police department would address crime. “We need a police department who works with the community, not against the community. We want them to not being an occupying force, we want the police to be partners and get to know the neighbors,” so DeVries. The NSD coordinates fifteen different programs to involve citizens in the City’s community-policing. The community-policing program is the heart of the City’s approach to build partnerships between OPD and the citizens of Oakland.

One major part of Oakland’s community-policing program is the Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council (NCPC). The NCPC is a group of people who live in the same neighborhood as known as a “police beat”. They meet on a regular basis and talk about what the City should focus on. The goal of the council is to bring community members together to work with the OPD in order to prevent crime. The NCPC is divided in over 50 several NCPC’s with a Neighborhood Services Coordinator (NSC) assigned to each of them. The NSC works directly with the residents. The coordinator hears the problems and relays the crime priorities they have chosen to the police department or other agencies like public works or housing.

Another program managed by the Neighborhood Services Division is the Neighborhood Watch. Here, too, the goal is to form a partnership between the community and the OPD. The NSD tries to encourage residents to take part in forming a Neighborhood Watch. “Anytime more people are watching what’s happing in the Neighborhood, the Neighborhood is safer,” said DeVries. He finds it important that people participate in programs like the Neighborhood Watch, so they get to know every neighbor on the street and form a so called “phone-tree”. For example, if the neighbors know each other and one sees a stranger going into another neighbor’s house, he or she is going to call the other neighbor to check if that is an “unexpected” visitor. On the contrary, if they don’t know each other they most likely do nothing.

The recent strategy the City of Oakland launched in October 2012 is called “Ceasefire”. The City joined other cities in California including Stockton or Los Angeles, which also have implemented “Ceasefire”. It is a strategy to prevent violent crimes such as shootings, homicides and gang violence. It was first established in Boston in 1996.

In Oakland, Ceasefire concentrates on East Oakland because more than 60% of homicides in the City occur in this area. It engages the community and several law enforcement authorities. After are careful analysis of data on violent crimes, the affected groups and individuals – most of them already have a police record or are on probation – are invited to a “call-in” meeting with affected residents and members of different law enforcement agencies. They meet face to face with the affected community members to show what bad impact their actions have on their neighborhood. Also they should recognize that there are people who care about them. The main purpose of that meeting is to show the participants that they will receive reinforced attention from the police if they won’t agree to stop shootings and homicides. If they agree they are provided an opportunity to change their lives. “We have case workers who say, ‘we can offer you a job, get you services, help you get your GED’ but if don’t change your live, then we will put you in jail for a long time,” said DeVries.

DeVries is sure, that these crime prevention programs will help to lower the crime rate in Oakland. Also, the City’s Cultural Art & Marketing Department make different efforts to promote the City by launching several websites about arts, culture and entertainment in Oakland. They include or, for example. Furthermore they fund Oakland-based arts and promote filmmaking in Oakland to gain the reputation as a “beautiful and culturally diverse city”.

Oakland relies on is the media as well. In January 2012 the New York Times ranked Oakland in the top 5 in their article “The 45 Places to Go in 2012”. They wrote, “Meanwhile, the city’s ever more sophisticated restaurants turning once-gritty Oakland into an increasingly appealing place to be after dark.” Unfortunately this is one of few positive highlights in the media which go towards enhancing Oakland’s reputation for people outside the City.

DeVries thinks, that it is up to the media. If they decide they want to report on the good things happening in Oakland, the City will have a good reputation. If they only want to report on the bad things, then they will have a bad reputation. “There are all these beautiful beautiful things about Oakland. But the national media, all they hear about is crime, all they hear about is Oakland is violent and dangerous,” he said.

Like AK, Joe doesn’t deny the high crime rate in Oakland, “We have crime, it is violent. The real violence is limited to a very small number of neighborhoods. The rest of the city is great!” The other crime like theft and robberies are bad, but they are working on it, he added.

Joe and AK agree, Oakland has a lot to offer and despite all the bad news about the City in the media, people move there. Once they have settled they might think as AK. She loves the City and sees a lot of potential. Oakland helped her to grow into the person she wants to be.

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