Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s so-called 100 Blocks crime plan deserved skepticism from the start. The idea that redeploying Oakland police to focus on one hundred of the most violent blocks in the city to in order to reduce crime overall may have sounded appealing to the mayor, but it was never backed up by solid research. In fact, neither the mayor nor OPD has been able to point to another city that has implemented such a plan successfully. Moreover, this week the Urban Strategies Council, a longtime nonprofit that has focused for years on crime and its root problems in Oakland, found even more flaws in the 100 Blocks plan.
Moreover, the study found that the city would have to target more than 1,300 blocks in order to combat the 90 percent of homicides and shootings that occur each year in Oakland. In other words, the mayor’s 100 Blocks plan should have been the 1,300 Blocks plan.
The mayor’s office has defended its plan this week, saying it and police used different data — from 2009 and 2010 — than Urban Strategies Council did. But looking at the city’s crime reports over the past half-decade, it’s obvious that the mayor’s argument about using different data is without merit. Indeed, it’s impossible to find 100 blocks in Oakland that account for 90 percent of the city’s annual killings and shootings, no matter what years you analyze. “It’s just not possible,” said Steve Spiker, Urban Strategies Council’s director of research and technology.
Spiker is right, and in hindsight, it should have been obvious. There are 6,560 Census blocks in Oakland, and the idea that 90 percent of the homicides and shootings are occurring in just 100 — or 1.5 percent — of them defies basic logic. If that were true, then those one hundred blocks would be among the most violent places on Earth.
They’re not, of course, but that’s not to say that violent crime isn’t concentrated in certain parts of the city, because it is. The Urban Strategies Council report proves it definitively. The report shows that 90 percent of Oakland’s killings and shootings occur in just one-fifth, or 20 percent, of all the blocks in the city (1,303 blocks out of 6,560 is 19.9 percent). In other words, the Urban Strategies Council report verifies what Oaklanders have known for years — that most of Oakland, four-fifths of the city, in fact, is relatively safe, while one-fifth of it is very violent. As such, the media portrayal of Oakland as being overrun by violent crime has no basis in fact and is patently false.
Nonetheless, we’re skeptical as to whether Quan’s plan would work even if she targeted 1,300 blocks rather than 100. The problem with hotspot policing — focusing cops on certain areas in a security guard-like approach — is that it tends to disperse crime to other parts of a community. Criminals, after all, are not going to be dissuaded from committing crimes if they see cops in one neighborhood and know that they can commit crimes in other neighborhoods without worry of being caught.
Even the US Department of Justice recognizes that hotspot policing doesn’t work. A DOJ analysis of a hotspot policing program in Jacksonville, Florida from 2003 to 2008 concluded that it had no effect on overall crime there.
Unfortunately, Oakland has had a longstanding infatuation with hotspot policing that predates Quan. Oakland police under mayors Ron Dellums and Jerry Brown practiced such tactics for years without success. And yet for some reason, city leaders keep going back to it, somehow thinking that it will eventually lower crime in Oakland’s most violent neighborhoods.
At the same time, the city has ignored what does work — old-fashioned policing: investigating crimes, solving them, building good cases, arresting the perpetrators, and winning convictions. We have long advocated for such tactics, but Oakland police and city leaders for some reason — perhaps because they require hard work and determination — have never fully embraced them.
And yet we have recent evidence to show that they appear to be effective. A months-long undercover operation involving federal agents and local law enforcement, known as Project Gideon III, targeted some of Oakland’s most violent criminals this year, and investigators worked diligently to apprehend them and put them behind bars. Even Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan now contends that the Project Gideon III has had a significant impact on crime in the city. In a press release this week, Jordan noted that violent crimes were down 14 percent in May compared to April.
As such, perhaps its time for the mayor, the police department, and city leaders to finally shelve hotspot policing and ideas like the 100 Blocks plan, and instead recognize that one of the most effective ways to reduce violent crime is to assign more cops to investigate it and solve it.