Violence prevention program based on Ceasefire comes to Oakland

This blog was written by Mills College reporting fellow Sandhya Dirks for our Fault Lines Project, exploring roots and solutions to violence in Oakland.  You can hear the reports in our series, read other blogs by our reporters, and participate in online discussions around these important issues at our Fault Lines Project page.

A new program to prevent crime


One of the things that came to light in our work on this project is that Oakland is introducing a new crime prevention program.  Soon afterwards, I began to see that a lot of people around the city don’t really know about its implementation.


It’s modeled on a program called Ceasefire—which started in Boston, and in a slightly different incarnation, went on to great accolades in Chicago. It began in Chicago in 1995—although now seems to be in some funding trouble in that city.


Ceasefire is complex. It is based on a model established by anthropologist David Kennedy, from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.


“Oakland is implementing something similar to the Chicago version of Ceasefire.”


That’s from a June 2009, agenda report from The Department of Human Services (or DHS) to the City Administrators office. In Oakland, it is called O-GRIPP, or Oakland Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention Program. The report goes on:


“O-GRIPP has been carefully modeled after Chicago's Ceasefire program.

Research has demonstrated that in Chicago targeting resources to high crime beats, aggressive prosecution of gun trafficking and offenses, and outreach and employment to high-risk clients resulted in a greater reductions in homicides as a result of implementing Ceasefire.”


So what exactly is Ceasefire?


What has been much lauded about the Ceasefire approach is that it seeks to address violence as a disease. As a public health issue yes, but also to target it like one would a disease. An outbreak of disease must be stopped at the source, and Ceasefire takes into account data that shows a majority of violent crimes is committed by a minority of people.

Ceasefire, as it is often known, seeks to pinpoint this problem population with something close to zero tolerance. It’s a targeted approach, to get at those causing, or transmitting the disease of violence, before it spreads.


Ceasefire also uses a new trend in problem-solving that harnesses the power of the group mentality.


The “call-in” is a process of singling out individuals that have been in trouble.  They are brought into a large meeting where options are laid out for them in a no-nonsense way.  Also at the call-ins are service providers, employers, community and religious leaders, and ex-gang members who sympathize and empathize with the group; giving them love and telling them that they have to stop the killing. They also offer them ways to do just that. Call-ins have been described as cathartic. Caseworkers are on hand—men who have escaped the criminal life themselves—to tell their own transformative stories. Then caseworkers give out their numbers to the young men.


The call-in has an almost twelve-step program mentality (with a lot less steps). The caseworkers are like AA sponsors, except instead of giving up alcohol, these individuals are asked to quit the violence. Though if they don’t quit cold turkey, the police inform them that they will reign down hell on them, and it seems, they will also face federal criminal charges.


But just who gets called in to the call-ins?


In Cincinnati, the police aggregated data on the worst crime beats, and drew up a list of names—people they defined as “gang members.” According to the Department of Human Services report, O-GRIPP will follow a similar strategy:


The Call- In Planning Committee is comprised of probation supervisors, the OPD Area Captain, and DHS. DHS will receive data from Probation, Parole and OPD to identify the youth and young adults in the Target Area who are most likely involved in gang or gun related violence. A list will be compiled of those who should be contacted, and Probation and Parole will send letters and/or make home visits to invite the target individuals to the next 'Call-In'.


But how is a “gang member” defined? The target population, according to the agenda report, has been defined as:


150-200 gang and violence-involved youth and young adults between the ages of 13-35, almost all of whom are male. The population resides within six high crime beats of West Oakland.


I read parts of the report to a group of young men from West Oakland. They were concerned, because to them it sounded like a round up of young black men. These were some of their responses:


“Who are they defining as a young… are they just saying… groups of black people in the same color…what are they defining as a gang?”


“They might as well arrest all of us


It is, of course, true that West (and East) Oakland have more homicides than other neighborhoods. Indisputably, there is more violence and criminal activity here.  Still many activists say this could prove to be a slippery slope to racial profiling writ large. It could amount to sweeping the street—which, a young man named David tells me he fears:


They see we killing each other, so [they say] lets put the rest of em in jail.


But Ceasefire has many ardent supporters in Chicago and around the country. Those who believe in it really feel it is the way to make a difference. But others ask, at what cost? Some even go so far as to suggest that this is a way to pave the way for gentrification of neighborhoods like West Oakland. As a reporter, I am wary of drawing conclusions about whether Ceasefire is good or bad. What concerns me is the lack of discussion of this violence prevention program in a public forum. It is true that in 2006, Oakland seemed poised to implement Ceasefire, there was even an article about Ceasefire in West Oakland in the New York Times.


Still, since then it hasn’t been much discussed, even though the Oakland City Council accepted $400,000 to fund the project from the State of California, effective July 1 2009. Oakland’s version of Ceasefire is here.


How else is it being paid for?


A lot of Ceasefire is being implemented with Measure Y programs. Measure Y is a taxpayer-funded initiative, which when it was passed in 2004, was not advertised as launching point for Ceasefire.