Oakland is making its first big investment in holistic approaches to violence reduction. Will it work?

A small Oakland department that until recently had few resources is now central to the city’s effort to fight a resurgent homicide rate and reduce other violent crimes.

Oakland created the Department of Violence Prevention in 2017, but the department lacked substantial funding and leadership. In 2019, the city hired a respected anti-violence expert to head the agency, but it wasn’t until June that officials directed significant resources to it.

That happened when the City Council rebuffed Mayor Libby Schaaf, directing more than $17 million away from her proposed police budget and into the fledgling department’s coffers. Now the agency is likely to gain more attention, along with pressure to show results in a city that’s seen a nearly 80% increase in homicides this year over 2020.

Department chief Guillermo Cespedes said the city has no choice — it must address gun violence, and the different departments must work together to make it happen. And he has a vision, one rooted in treating gun violence as a public health emergency.

“Homicide reduction, it’s something the city of Oakland has to be successful at,” Cespedes told council members at a committee meeting Tuesday. “That is not just the job of the Department of Violence Prevention, it’s the job of the entire city.”

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