Surge in Bay Area violence raises questions about how to curb deadly cycle

The surge in violence in the Bay Area and across the county is raising new questions about what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to happen to curb the deadly cycle.

The number of murders in the United States jumped by nearly 30% last year compared with 2019 in the largest single-year increase ever recorded in the country, according to FBI statistics. Murders also jumped 16% for the first part of this year, according to data from the nonpartisan think-tank Council on Criminal Justice.

Oakland has had 119 homicides so far this year, 10 more than in all of 2020. The city also saw an 85% increase in violent car-jackings.

"Oakland’s sad reality has become back-to-back violent tragedies. First, a mass shooting and murder Friday, an innocent toddler murdered on Saturday, followed by another murder that evening. No wonder Oakland’s Chamber of Commerce poll found that more than 2 in 3 Oakland voters do not feel safe, said Oakland Police Officers' Association President Barry Donelan.

The spike in crime comes as police departments nationwide are facing a never-before-seen staffing shortage. Oakland is losing about 10 officers a month and City Council just approved an additional police academy.

But police can’t be everywhere all the time, and Oakland, for example, has community outreach programs in place with a clear message: "If you see something, say something."

"What the research says is very clear: police have to be part of the solution but they can’t be the whole solution," said Thomas Abt, senior fellow of CCJ.

Several studies found crime and gun violence center among small groups of people or in pockets of cities.

Ceasefire programs, which Oakland had implemented years ago, can act as an effective violence prevention strategy if there's a commitment to it.

Abt said Oakland had cut its gun violence in half but strategies and circumstances changed with the pandemic and social unrest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

"It depends on collaboration between cops and community members and others," Abt said. "It depends on people putting down their ideological beliefs."

Politics aside, research shows more illegal guns are now on the streets and in the hands of those at highest risk for gun violence.

Since the pandemic, another key issue is social media where police say online confrontations can lead to offline violence, especially among gang members.

"When lives are on the line, we need to have a message that involves not just rewards but also punishments," Abt said. "It’s the only thing that works to keep people safe is you have a little bit of carrot and a little bit of stick."

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @BrooksKTVU.