Oakland city officials announce 5-year reduction in violent crime

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OAKLAND (BCN) Oakland city officials today celebrated a five-year reduction in violent crime, citing stronger community bonds, stable leadership at the Police Department and better sharing of information among police officers.

"As mayor of Oakland, I am pleased to be showing five-year trends in making Oakland safer," Mayor Libby Schaaf said, adding that the celebration is by no means "mission accomplished."

Schaaf said the reduction is due to a holistic approach that uses smarter strategies, including work with community partners such as the faith community.

The mayor said the city's Ceasefire program, which started in 2012 and aims to reduce gang/group-related homicides and shootings, has been a critical link to preventing and solving crime.

Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said, "I am very pleased to share the story. And it's a good story."

Schaaf said there were 72 homicides in Oakland in 2017, 51 fewer than in 2012 and 13 fewer than in 2016.

Oakland police spokeswoman Officer Johnna Watson said the department's 2016 total does not include the 36 deaths in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire on Dec. 2, 2016. The two defendants in that case are facing trial likely later this year on involuntary manslaughter charges in that case.

The 2017 count is the fewest since 1985 when data started being collected. The fewest number on record is 60 in 1999, Schaaf said.

So far this year, three homicides have occurred.

City leaders also touted a decline in the number of times police used force to make a suspect comply with them. That number declined from 1,244 in 2012 to 309 last year, according to data from the Police Department's Office of Inspector General.

Also down were injury shootings, which fell to 277 last year from 331 in 2016 and 553 in 2012.

But Ceasefire program director Reygan Cunningham said the numbers represent more than shootings.

"There are people behind these numbers," Cunningham said.

She said, "Yes, we have a long way to go," but she believes Oakland can be safer.

Police also celebrated the homicide clearance rate, which was 71 percent last year. The clearance rate is the number of homicides in which someone was charged divided by the total number of homicides.

Capt. Roland Holmgren said 33 of the 51 suspects charged were from 2017 homicides and the other 18 occurred in previous years.

Holmgren said the numbers send a warning to potential violent offenders.

"There's a very good chance that you'll be caught," he said.

While Holmgren took a firm stance toward perpetrators, Peter Kim, manager of Oakland Unite and the interim director of the newly established Department of Violence Prevention, took a compassionate one.

He said a goal is the healing of victims and criminals.

"We know hurt people hurt people," Kim said.

The Rev. Michael Wallace of Oakland's Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church said he was overwhelmed by the reduction in homicides and violent crime last year and acknowledged the city's progress.

But Wallace said, "This is not a final destination."

The celebration of the reduction in violent crime was met with concern about the number of auto burglaries, which last year jumped to 10,007 from 7,596 in 2016 and 7,012 in 2013.

"We are going to be tackling auto burglaries," Kirkpatrick said, adding that Oakland is not the only city in the Bay Area with a problem.

San Francisco police reported 28,395 auto break-ins between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30 of last year, a 26 percent jump from the same time period in 2016.