Oakland police are doubling down on a tough-on-crime plan. Some activists are skeptical.
The city has spent years wrestling with some of the toughest problems in America: gang violence, homelessness, drug addiction. Over the years, the Oakland Police Department has rolled out a number of tactics that could be considered anti-crime moves, from “hotshot” enforcement to aggressive community policing.
So this spring, city leaders and law enforcement officials will begin a new four-year, multiphase pilot program with the hopes of transforming the department from one of the oldest, most storied police forces in America into one of the youngest.
Oakland officials say the program will target three main groups: young men of color, homeless people and youth engaged in gangs. The pilot, funded in part by a grant from the department’s own Office of Community Engagement, involves officers, as well as community and education workers, going into neighborhoods to speak with youth about crime prevention and reduce their involvement in gangs and the drug trade.
“We’re trying to get them back into school or not in prison, to get them to join a gang and not be involved with drugs, even though the idea is that the violence that comes from drugs and gang activity is so pervasive and so devastating and so damaging in these communities,” Oakland police chief Anthony Batts said at a community meeting in the city’s Fruitvale neighborhood last week.
Residents of the predominantly African American Fruitvale neighborhood have mixed feelings about the city’s new strategy.
Alicia Martin, 37, a nurse and housekeeper who has lived in Fruitvale for 20 years, says the neighborhood has been blighted by drug use and gang activity, but the police presence has added only more problems.
“This feels like a trap, like they’re trying to do something to us,” Martin said during the community meeting last week. “They’re not actually trying to help us, it’s just to keep us down.”
“What’s happened to the community in the last two decades when they used to be strong and vibrant?” she asked, referring to the 1950s. “This is a community where people are tired. They have a lot of children and a lot of young people out there who are living on the streets.”
Residents of Fruitvale have