Oakland's Other Gang Program 

A $2 million program designed to lower gang violence is on hold apparently because it conflicts with the city's gang injunctions.

As the Oakland City Council grapples this week with whether to expand gang injunctions, city officials are quietly sitting on more than $2 million in federal grant money designed to combat gangs. Public documents indicate that earlier this year Oakland officials suspended the anti-gang program for which the $2.2 million grant money was intended because it appeared to conflict with the city's controversial gang injunctions.

The $2.2 million in federal funds actually was the second major grant that the city had received for an anti-gang program modeled after the carrot-and-stick approach of Operation Ceasefire, a nationwide violence prevention program pioneered in Boston and Chicago. The first grant came from the California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention grant fund, was created in 2007 by the state legislature. As of November 2010, $27.6 million in Cal-GRIP funds had been awarded to 38 cities and 25 community-based organizations across the state. Oakland was awarded a two-year Cal-GRIP grant in 2009.

The centerpiece of Operation Ceasefire is a program known as a "call-in," which targets alleged gang members on probation or parole with a sort of "scared straight" approach that outlines the treatment they will receive from law enforcement if they continue to commit crimes while also offering employment and education services to get them out of the street life. Participation in the call-ins is required as per their terms of probation or parole.

The Oakland call-ins were run through the city's Department of Human Services and in conjunction with the Measure Y violence prevention initiative. According to a final progress report for the Cal-GRIP grant, it cost $828,217, half in city funds, half in state Cal-GRIP money. However, participation in the program was disappointing. Instead of the target of 216 participants, just 103 people took part in the call-ins, with 34 people receiving education services and 56 participants gaining unsubsidized employment.

Jeff Wozniak, an attorney who represents many of the Fruitvale injunction defendants and has also accompanied people to call-ins, said that law enforcement participation and the lack of meaningful employment opportunities hampered the call-ins. "When the carrot is one of those little baby carrots and the stick is a really big stick, you don't want to go through that," Wozniak explained.

The final progress report for Oakland's Cal-GRIP, completed in April, appeared to back up Wozniak's assertions. The report stated that injunctions were an "ongoing challenge" for the call-ins because "injunctions were issued in the same neighborhood as the call-ins" and rumors were circulating that "the call-in was a set-up for being put on the injunction list."

City officials have promoted the call-ins as an alternative to traditional crime suppression tactics such as probation sweeps and the hard-nosed policing that led to federal oversight of Oakland police after abuses by West Oakland officers became public a decade ago. The city's controversial gang injunctions, similarly, fall into the tough-tactics category: two court orders are currently in place in North Oakland and Fruitvale, despite community opposition.

However, a spate of violence this summer and a homicide rate that is roughly 30 percent higher than last year may have changed the attitude of some Oakland politicians toward gang injunctions. Prompted by the August 8 murder of three-year-old Carlos Nava in East Oakland, Councilmen Ignacio De La Fuente and Larry Reid proposed expanding the gang injunctions to East and West Oakland, as well as implementing a youth curfew and an anti-loitering measure. The council was set to vote on the measures this week.

De La Fuente and Reid proposed overturning a May 17 decision by the council to hold off on future gang injunctions until the two existing court orders have been independently reviewed. It would also put the injunctions on a collision course with the call-in program.

Several people who called in during 2010 ended up on the Fruitvale injunction — as well as a former gang member who did street outreach for Measure Y, raising questions as to whether the two programs conflict with each other. The most recent call-ins had been in West and East Oakland, the targets for new injunctions. KALW Radio reported in April that the law firm Meyers Nave, which litigated the Fruitvale injunction, had been paid $20,000 for legal work on an injunction in Deep East Oakland.

Reygan Harmon, Mayor Jean Quan's public safety adviser, said in an interview that the call-in programs have been on hold since June. "We're not abandoning it, but I need to look at the data and look at how to figure out how to do things better," Harmon said. Last October, Oakland received the $2.2 million federal grant to fund the call-ins for three more years. Oakland officials have denied that the city's call-in programs and gang injunctions are linked, and say any overlap was due to a lack of communication between the Department of Human Services, the City Attorney's Office, and OPD.

Adding to the confusion is that in other cities that use the same Operation Ceasefire strategy of call-ins and gang injunctions, there are direct ties between injunctions and call-ins. At a September 18 meeting of the California Cities Gang Prevention Network in downtown Oakland, Oxnard Mayor Thomas Holden said that his city's gang injunctions allowed Oxnard police and the other agencies involved in that city's Operation Ceasefire program to identify specific gang members who would then be asked to participate in call-ins.

As for De La Fuente, he said earlier this week that despite all the rhetoric put forth by opponents of the injunctions, he thinks that the violent crime rate has altered the political calculus toward tougher measures. "One thing that's unequivocally clear is nothing is working in Oakland — people are dying and being shot," De La Fuente said. "No one likes these kinds of ordinances, but at some point you have to be realistic."

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