Priorities for Reimagining Public Safety

Posted: May 3, 2021

Letter to City Council and the Mayor –

Youth ALIVE! is Oakland’s anchor community organization for violence prevention, intervention, and healing. Our community of staff, volunteers, youth leaders, and clients include Oakland community members directly impacted by violence and/or incarceration. From our unique perspective, we see Oakland’s Reimagining Public Safety process as a valuable opportunity to uplift what real public safety looks like for community members experiencing the least safety. We have three top priorities:

1) Invest in community-based violence prevention and intervention. In the Task Force report, this is recommendation #144/149: “Prioritize funding violence prevention strategies that address gender-based violence, shootings, homicides, and youth services, and invest in formerly system involved Community Workers and Violence Interrupters.” There are many aspects to public safety, but addressing violence is the most critical issue from both a safety and equity perspective. We endorse the recommendation to immediately double the DVP budget. Last year, the DVP proposed cutting services for youth and for job training in order to focus their limited resources on other strategies. As a city, we should never be in a position where we defund proven and effective violence prevention programs in order to fund other approaches simply because our Department of Violence Prevention budget is woefully under resourced. In order to appropriately support the DVP, this funding may come from proposed cuts to the police budget. It may also come from new revenue sources, such as a ballot initiative. We also recommend that Council should only approve an Oakland Fund for Children and Youth (OFCY) strategic plan that explicitly includes a violence prevention strategy. The OFCY strategy should include broadly targeted programs, such as conflict mediation or dating violence awareness in schools, and programs to address risk factors such as chronic truancy, suspension and expulsion, exposure to violence, histories of trauma, child abuse and neglect, commercial sexual exploitation, juvenile-justice involvement and gang affiliation. Ideally, this OFCY primary violence prevention strategy would complement and coordinate with the DVP’s secondary and tertiary prevention strategies.

2) Invest in culturally appropriate mental health services. Mental health came up repeatedly in Task Force conversations and Youth ALIVE!’s community listening sessions. Trauma is a root cause, a direct cause, and a direct result of violence. Oaklanders are traumatized by violence and poverty, and desperately need services to address that trauma and restore their mental health. In the Task Force report, there were several recommendations related to mental health – #34, 102, 150, 65, 71, 110 – all of which have value. The core issue is that the City of Oakland lacks, and needs, our own coordinated mental health strategy. We simply cannot defer entirely to the County in determining what and how Oaklanders get the healing we need. Youth ALIVE! recommends that the City negotiate a direct mental health contract with Alameda County to expand these needed services not just to respond to mental health crises but to provide preventative care and healing. We also recommend that City Council task the Human Services Department to convene a working group focused on reimagining mental health services. It could include folks in both traditional and non-traditional mental health positions (e.g. front line workers, community members, indigenous healers, mentors, life coaches, etc.) and especially young people in order to develop targeted mental health supports for youth and adults that are relevant and accessible. The goal could be to create a road map or wish list of services Oakland could then draw on to help shape contract discussions with the County.

3) The OPD budget should focus on addressing shootings and homicides, and not on nonviolent and non-criminal issues. Because we work with victims in the aftermath of violence, including the mothers of homicide victims, we want to especially emphasize the importance of maintaining or expanding OPD’s investigation capacity, through sworn or civilian personnel. We need to investigate homicides and improve the solve rate to provide peace and closure to our families. In addition, we believe that gun tracing efforts are crucial to reducing gun crimes. Cuts to OPD’s budget should reduce the time spent by officers with a badge and gun on low level offenses and non-criminal calls, such as: traffic-related calls (e.g. blocked driveways); Disturbing the Peace calls; unverified burglar alarms; mental health calls and wellness checks; event staffing; taking down burglary, larceny and vehicle theft reports; recovering property; responding to blight (e.g. abandoned autos); and Animal Control calls. We want to point out that if the City creates a mental health response team, we would need fewer police to respond to these calls, but police would still sometimes be needed.

We respectfully request that you consider these priorities when deliberating on how Oakland can effectively respond to the Task Force recommendations to truly cultivate community safety. As individuals who are unfortunately all too familiar with the impact of violence on the community, we are committed to making Oakland a safer place. However, we know that our role in increasing community safety is directly tied to the resources the city is dedicating towards broader violence prevention investments and accessible mental health care that addresses traumas and adverse childhood experiences. Any cuts to OPD should be strategically focused on areas where a badge and a gun is not necessary, with more resources dedicated to responding to violent crime to ensure community members who experience the most harm are not impacted by these changes.

Respectfully submitted on behalf of the Youth ALIVE! community on April 28, 2021