By Lauren Hernandez San Francisco Chronicle

OAKLAND, Calif. — Oakland police are crediting a roughly 50 percent drop in gun related deaths and injures in the past seven years to their partnership with Ceasefire Oakland and community organizations.

The Oakland Ceasefire program, which was fully implemented in early 2013, provided individuals — those engaged in violent activity, at risk of committing violent acts and victims of violence — with “life coaches” to guide them away from future harm.

In 2011, Oakland saw 93 victims of gun homicides and 617 non-fatal victims of gun assaults, according to the nine-page Oakland Ceasefire Impact Evaluation released Tuesday.

In 2017, statistics showed 63 homicides and 277 non-fatal gun assaults — reflecting a 48 percent drop from 2011.

“Instead of doing what we normally would have done for a very long time in the city of Oakland, attempting to go out and put as many people in jail as possible, we came up with an idea that we were going to have a strategic approach,” said Oakland police Captain Ersie Joyner.

Joyner said police identified three major goals for the program including reducing shootings and homicides, reducing recidivism and repairing and building law enforcement’s “damaged relationship” with the community.

Vaughn Crandall, co-director of California Partnership for Safe Communities, said officials identify people who are at risk of either reoffending, victims of nonfatal shootings or those who are likely to be drawn into the “cycle of retaliation” following a shooting and pair these individuals with “life coaches.” Mentors are primarily contractors hired from Oakland-based community organizations such as Community & Youth Outreach, Youth ALIVE!, and the Mentoring Center.

“We engage them and inform them of their risk of the likely legal consequences if they were to use a gun to retaliate, of the special services and opportunities and supports that are available to them now and in an ongoing way,” Crandall said. “The primary focus is to build trust, help them stay safe and out of prison.”

When community outreach and intervention doesn’t work with clients, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff said law enforcement is the “last resort, but it is a threat that gets used when necessary.”

Joyner joined Schaaf and Acting Chief LeRonne Armstrong in acknowledging the historic distrust of law enforcement agencies, especially among communities of color.

As part of their effort to improve public trust, Armstrong said every Oakland police officer and professional staff member has undergone an initial 8-hour-training session about the history of the community’s distrust of the Oakland Police Department.

“We recognize that number one we were going into neighborhoods that trust us the least but needed us the most,” Joyner said. “We set out five years ago with this paradigm shift in regards to our service delivery in the community… and we had to recalibrate our officers into using procedural justice.”

Joyner said clients of the program have taught officials how to better understand the individual fears of those participating in the program, specifically during in-person meetings with mentors.

“They told us about how they feel vulnerable driving to certain locations for a call-in because they have to pass through rival gang territory,” Joyner said. “Saying that right now I feel like an idiot that I didn’t recognize that right away, but that was something that we did for them.”

Officials credit the Ceasefire program for the estimated 31.5 percent reduction in Oakland gun homicides, the report reads.

The report analyzed a group of 12 other “comparison” cities and only two — San Francisco and Stockton — showed reductions during the same period.

Investigators compared Oakland’s gun homicide trends from 2010 to 2017 with those of Fresno, Sacramento, Stockton, Santa Ana, Anaheim, Long Beach, Riverside, Bakersfield, Alameda, San Francisco, Richmond and East Palo Alto.

“The cross-city quasi-experiment suggests that the Ceasefire intervention was associated with a noteworthy citywide reduction of gun homicide in Oakland that seemed distinct from gun homicide trends in other California cities,” the report states.

Crandall said most major city gun violence is driven by a small group of people who are “highly involved” in the justice system, and Oakland is no different.

The findings, which were compiled by three investigators from Northeastern University, Northwestern University and Rutgers University, also suggests the Ceasefire program has decreased the annual number of all non-fatal shootings, including those involving gang members or affiliates of gangs.

Officials said an evaluation of their findings suggests the Ceasefire program was associated with a roughly 27 percent reduction in shootings by treated gangs and affiliates of gangs compared to gang members and affiliates who were not involved in the program.

“They are older than we tend to think and are involved in these powerful group dynamics that, in a lot of ways, incentivizes them to use violence to resolve disputes,” Crandall said. “What you see in that analysis is that the majority of homicides in Oakland are connected to ongoing conflicts between identified street groups and the members of those groups as a way to resolve personal disputes.”

Oakland police officials said they plan to continue the program going forward in hopes to further reduce shootings.

©2018 the San Francisco Chronicle

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