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Oakland’s controversial crime prevention measure receives national recognition

The city of Oakland received over $3 million from the federal government this September in an attempt to continue and improve Measure Y, a violence prevention act started in 2004.

In November, Measure BB will be on the ballot. If passed by voters, this controversial measure will amend certain aspects of the older violence prevention measure.

Measure Y (2004)

Measure Y provides the city of Oakland with close to $20 million annually for the next 10 years. The measure’s funds are collected through a parcel tax and parking fees.

Measure Y’s programs include youth comprehensive services, family and domestic violence prevention, youth and adult reentry programs and crisis and incident response efforts. The measure’s funds are also used to hire special police officers called Problem Solving Officers (PSOs), according to a mid-year report dated 13 May, 2010 and released by the city administrator’s office. PSOs offer community outreach in particularly crime-heavy areas in Oakland.

$4 million of Measure Y’s funds go to keeping all fire stations open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Of the funds remaining, approximately 40% go to violence prevention programs and 60% go to hiring additional police officers in charge of problem solving, truancy, domestic violence and special victims units, according to the Measure Y website.

After Measure Y’s implementation in 2005, total crimes reported continued to increase through May 2008, according to the 2008-09 Crime Trends report, released by Gibson and Associates and the Resource Development Associates.

It is important to note the difference between actual crime rates and reported crimes rates, said the report.

“For example, an increase in reported crime between 2006 -2008 may be explained by the fact that Measure Y efforts succeeded in building trust-relationships with community members, so that an increased proportion of previously unreported crime was then being reported.  Or, more crime might have occurred during this period, leading to higher levels of reported crime,” the report concluded.

During this time period, property crimes were reported most frequently, says the report, and sexual crimes least frequently.
Reported crime rates decreased in each month following June 2008, the report continues. It highlighted declines in property and violent crimes.

In the first years of Measure Y’s implementation, it was supposed to increase the police force by 63 officers. This goal, however, was not met.

“The problem was, the size of the police force went down instead of up,” said Marleen Sacks, an Oakland resident and attorney who sued the city of Oakland in 2008 for misusing Measure Y funding.

The mayor of Oakland, Ron Dellums, used an estimated $15 million of Measure Y funding to staff regular police officers, as opposed to special PSOs promised in the text of Measure Y, between the time the measure was enacted through 2008, according to Sacks’s litigation.

“I wrote the city and told them ‘you’re not allowed to do this,’ but they did it anyway,” Sacks said. And so she sued the city.
Sacks’ suit rested on more grounds than the misused funds alone. She also alleged that the City had not filed the annual audits required by Measure Y, nor had it discontinued collecting the Measure Y tax even though the police staff was below the required number of officers.

Sacks won her lawsuit against the city based on her two conclusions about the misused funds and the lack of annual audits. Currently, the case has been appealed by the city and is still in review.
Since the 2008 lawsuit, Sacks has sued Oakland for additional violations to Measure Y, such as its failure to hold police academies.

“They have to have regular academies to keep the staff even,” Sacks said. The city has not held an academy since the fall of 2008.
Without police academies, the city has allowed the police force to decline, Sacks said, using retirement rates to save money. Oakland did not discontinue collection of the Measure Y parcel tax until it laid off 80 police officers this year.

The offices of the city auditor, Courtney Ruby, and the city attorney’s legal communications director, Alex Katz, said neither were at liberty to discuss the pending litigation between the city and Sacks.

Measure BB (2010)

Measure Y’s effectiveness is now dependent on whether or not the city of Oakland can continue to fund its programs.

“Crime prevention cannot work without the officers on the streets to back up the programs,” said Mills College director of Public Safety, Michael Lopez, in an email. “With the recent layoffs of police officers, the city crime rate in certain areas jumped dramatically.  We need our neighborhood police officers back on the job.”

On this year’s ballot, Measure BB, formerly titled the Amend the Violence Prevention and Public Safety Act of 2004,  has been proposed in order to allow the city to continue collecting the Measure Y parcel tax despite having fewer police officers on staff.

Though the measure reads, “To restore community police officer positions…” it is not clear if the city will be required to rehire the officers laid off earlier this year.

“I do not think Measure BB alone lets us restore the police officers (laid off), but it prevents further layoffs,” said Sara Bedford, the policy and planning manager for Measure Y. According to Bedford, the City would need additional measures on this year’s ballot to pass, such as Measure X which would levy an additional parcel tax in order to fund public safety programs, in order to rehire those laid off earlier this year.

Sacks said Measure BB does not guarantee an increase in public safety.

“I am vehemently opposed to Measure BB,” Sacks said.

Sacks said that Measure BB will not only allow the city to tax its citizens “no matter how small the police force is,” but it will also decrease the effectiveness of public safety programs. Without a legal obligation to staff the police force to a certain number, the city will lose all incentive to do so, she said.

“The minimum staffing language is in there for a reason,” she said of the police staff minimum of 739 officers. “If Measure BB passes, the police force will drop even further.”

The Grants

Measure Y has brought in over $3 million worth of grants for the city of Oakland.

Though Measure Y encompasses many different programs, the city has received grants mainly focused on the measure’s crime prevention  and youth and adult reentry programs.

According to Bedford, the grants include a $2.2 million dollar Community-Based Violence Prevention Demonstration Grant from the Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, aimed at replicating the nationally recognized ceasefire model of violence prevention. The grant money will be spread over three years.

Though the ceasefire model was created for use in Chicago, Bedford said that the model Measure Y uses was adapted specifically for Oakland.

The purposes of the ceasefire model are to provide youth with alternatives to gang related behavior, educate violent-prone communities and increase awareness about the dangers of youth violence, according to a press release sent by the Department of Human Services in Oakland on Sept. 23.

The two smaller grants, both worth $750,000 for one year, are aimed at successfully returning juvenile and adult offenders to school and work immediately after their release.

Besides funding Measure Y programs already in place, the grants will also allow the city to use social marketing to reduce crime.

“It will allow us to create a community message of anti-violence,” Bedford said.

Sacks, however, has her doubts.

“I am not convinced that these violence prevention programs are that effective,” she said. Her main concern is that the evaluations published on Measure Y programs are bias.

“The companies that do these evaluations get paid a lot of money and want to get hired again,” she said. Sacks also said she had received tips from the community that any problems or ineffectiveness with Measure Y tends to get “swept under the carpet.”

Both the Oakland Mayor’s office and the city administrator’s officer could not be reached for comment.

Though she is not convinced that Measure Y deserves the national recognition it has received, she also sees the grants as proof that violence prevention programs in Oakland will survive without Measure Y funding.

“Most programs that get Measure Y funding were in existence long before Measure Y,” she said. “They will be O.K.”