OAKLAND, Calif. - Oakland's mayor is pushing to resurrect the city's successful Ceasefire program, which supporters credit with helping reduce homicides by nearly half during its heyday.
Mayor Sheng Thao commissioned the nonprofit that used to run the program, the California Partnership for Safe Communities, to figure out how to bring back the city to another period of low crime.
On Tuesday, Thao publicly released an audit that the nonprofit published, which urges Oakland to bring the Ceasefire program back. The city council will be briefed on the audit at its meeting later in the day. The nonprofit commissioned to conduct the audit is also the group that used to run the Ceasefire strategy.
The audit found that Oakland has not effectively implemented the Ceasefire strategies – such as data crunching, life coaching and gang intervention – since late 2019.
Since then, the resources, management talent and accountability needed to implement the strategy were "refocused, defunded, and effectively gutted," the audit found.
Executive Director Vaughn Crandall and Reygan Cunningham, co-director of California Partnership for Safe Communities, used to manage the Ceasefire program for the city, while former Oakland police captain Ersie Joyner III, a senior consultant for the group, used to run the Ceasefire strategy on behalf of OPD before retiring in 2019.
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - MAY 08: An aerial view of Lake Merritt in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, May 8, 2023. (Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images)
Kaiser Permanente, the Department of Justice and Project Safe Neighborhoods helped fund the study.
"Oakland was once the national model for reducing gun violence," Thao said in a statement. "I’m proud to announce that we are resurrecting the strategy that was proven successful in saving lives and reducing crime."
Thao has talked about bringing back Ceasefire since her first days as mayor, roughly a year ago. Her office said the program will begin immediately.
Her office said Ceasefire won't cost anything at first.
The Department of Violence Prevention and Oakland Police Department will reallocate existing resources this year.
And in future budget cycles, Oakland will review audit recommendations for more staff positions within the Department of Violence Prevention. Thao's office said Oakland will also pursue federal, state, and private funding to fully implement the Ceasefire strategy.
Operation Ceasefire was undoubtedly successful and was heralded as a national model.
From 2012 to 2017, it boasted a 42% reduction in homicides and this period of violence reduction continued through 2019.
Oakland’s homicide rate increased from a low of 16.2 in 2018 to 27.8 in 2022, according to the audit.
Ceasefire is an evidence-based strategy that uses human intelligence gathered on the street and data to focus on the small group of people who are most likely to commit or fall victim to gun violence.
The program has three main goals: reduce gang shootings and homicides by focusing on the small group of people perpetrating these crimes; decrease recidivism and incarceration rates by offering at-risk groups real alternatives, like jobs, social services and life coaching; and strengthen police-community relations.
The audit noted that the city of Oakland "gradually walked away" from the Ceasefire strategy, notably in 2020, when the pandemic hit and people could no longer interact face to face.
"This generalized approach is in stark contrast to the very specific, precision-oriented intervention approach focused on high-risk individuals, groups and places that Oakland had been using during the multiple years of declining homicide rates," according to the audit.
Former Mayor Libby Schaaf weighed in on social media on Tuesday, saying in part, "It's tragic when the city tries to rewrite history instead of improving public safety. From 2015-2019, Oakland experienced its lowest 5-year homicide rate ever on record. Oakland can & should recommit to the Ceasefire strategy now."
Sources in the community added that since Ceasefire was so successful, city leaders decided to put their resources and attention elsewhere.
The audit's authors noted that beginning in 2016-2017 and accelerating in 2019 and 2020, "each essential element of the strategy was significantly watered down, resources stripped away, or refocused."
As a result, the audit found that the Ceasefire strategy no longer impacted citywide levels of violence in Oakland. Therefore, the "city has not been effectively implementing the Ceasefire strategy since 2020."
Interim Police Chief Darren Allison and Holly Joshi, chief of the Department of Violence Prevention, both support the move. In statements, both said they wanted to address gun violence and develop better prevention and intervention programs.
Some of the specific suggestions from the California Partnership for Safe Communities include increasing subject-matter experts on gangs; bringing back "shooting review" meetings to involve the Oakland police department's executive team and beginning to analyze better who has the guns and who is using them; focusing on proactive violence reduction plans, improving communication between departments, conducting more "relentless" outreach and providing life coaching to at-risk groups.
Another recommendation is to disband the Violent Crime Operations Center, which was established by former Chief LeRonne Armstrong in 2021 and run by his wife.
The VCOC focused department resources on solving crimes instead of preventing them from happening.