When Mayor Jean Quan and the Oakland Police Department announced the “100 Blocks” crime plan in 2011- a concentration of law enforcement efforts in a 100-block area allegedly responsible for the overwhelming majority of the city's shootings, killings and violent crimes - many felt that the way the city framed its initiative was imprecise and confusing.
The city’s rhetoric around 100 Blocks was unclear: It was a new plan, except when it wasn’t. It didn’t draw police resources away from other neighborhoods, except when it did. It worked, except when it didn’t.
On the surface, 100 Blocks appeared to be an adaptation of the “hotspot enforcement strategy” initiated by former Police Chief Anthony Batts. Where those 100 blocks were, exactly, was never revealed, however. After the plan was announced, home invasion robberies spiked in some of the city’s neighborhoods, drawing outrage from residents.
Moreover, crime overall in Oakland has risen since the beginning of the year. In April, Deputy Chief Darren Allison was quoted by KGO-TV as saying robberies were up almost 50 percent and burglaries were up almost 40 percent.
On Monday, a new report on 100 Blocks was released by the Urban Strategies Council - an independent research organization, which has worked with OPD in the past to develop state-of-the-art crime-mapping technology. The study maintains that the city did not accurately present the level of crime in the so-called 100 blocks and that the crime the city reported as happening in those blocks actually happened over a much broader area.
In its press release, Urban Strategies said it had received “dozens of inquiries” about the details of the mayor’s public safety plan.
“Since the city has chosen not to release the details of these blocks or their methods and data,” the press release went on to note, 'Urban Strategies conducted its own research to “identify the 100 blocks with the highest levels of shootings and homicides in Oakland.”
According to its study, between 2007 and 2011, 17 percent of homicides and shootings occurred within the top 100 census blocks in Oakland. In 2011, 20 percent of homicides and shootings were within the top 100 blocks.
That’s a substantial difference from the mayor’s claims that as much as 90 percent of the violent crime happened within the 100 Block radius. Such a discrepancy raises numerous questions about public safety and OPD’s crime strategy.
According to Urban Strategies’ Director of Research and Technology Steve Spiker, what’s especially problematic about the lack of transparency around 100 Blocks is, “when the city doesn’t provide detailed information about what it’s doing and where, people don’t really know exactly what’s happening.” Because of that, “they don’t really have any ability to question the validity or the intent behind those decisions.”
Without any publicly-released data, Spiker said, it’s not possible to gauge the plan’s effectiveness.
“It may very well be the case that what’s happening around 100 Blocks is excellent work,” he said. “But without releasing any data to justify where it’s happening and what is happening, it’s impossible for anyone in the city to actually know that.”
Oakland Local contacted three different city departments seeking comment; no one was eager to talk to the media. OPD Media Relations Spokeswoman Johnna Watson answered a reporter’s inquiries with the following five-word email: “Hello, please contact the City.”
Quan’s Communication Director, Sue Piper, was on a leave of absence and unavailable. Carlos Uribe, another mayoral staffer, referred OL to Karen Boyd at the City Administrator’s office. Boyd in turn said Reygan Harmon, a specialist in public policy and former investigator for the Citizens Police Review Board, would be responding to questions.
Reached over the phone, Harmon - who was with Anne Campbell Washington, the mayor’s chief of staff - admitted she hadn’t closely reviewed the data Urban Strategies used in their study. However, “the methodology is different,” she explained.
Harmon described the discrepancy: Urban Strategies’ data started in 2007, a period when part of Jingletown was considered a hotspot, while OPD’s data-collection efforts trace back to 2009. By that time, she said, that area was “no longer a Top 10 neighborhood” in terms of violent crime. Similarly, she said, a former hotspot at 82nd and Macarthur was no more, due to foreclosures.
OPD’s crime map doesn’t name the individual 100 blocks, Harmon said; instead, it “shows where the hotspots are.”
The reason the 100 blocks haven’t been specifically named, she said, was because “the federal government asked us not to” due to an ongoing ATF investigation.
That investigation, she said, has significantly impacted violent crime in hotspot areas. The week of a recent ATF raid - which netted 90 arrests and removed an equal amount of guns from the streets - there were no homicides in the city, which, she said, was a rare occurrence in Oakland.
The city, Harmon said, was not only concerned about violent crime, but doing everything under its power to reduce it. While admitting many details of the Mayor’s crime plan have not been publicly announced, Harmon said she has been speaking at various neighborhood crime prevention councils and answering citizens’ individual questions.
Campbell Washington said the 100 Blocks area
includes many of the same neighborhoods in East and West Oakland that
have long been hotspots.
“None of us are served by releasing that data,” she stated, adding that doing so could jeopardize law enforcement operations.
Washington cautioned citizens “not to get lost” in the name of the 100 Blocks plan and instead judge its success by the results.
The city has “been as transparent as they possibly can,” Harmon added. Yet she concedes that full transparency isn’t possible, which she calls “a challenge on the part of law enforcement.”
History shows that’s also a challenge to the mayor, who has made the 100 Blocks part of her public relations campaign.
The 100 Blocks controversy is just the latest around accountability and transparency in Oakland city government - a theme which extends at least as far back as the Dellums administration and the Deborah Edgerly fiasco - which has remained a persistent bugaboo for Quan and OPD.
To say accountability and transparency issues have been exacerbated since the Occupy movement started is an understatement. Perhaps most egregiously, say the ACLU and National Lawyers Guild, OPD has endangered public safety with repeated violations of its own crowd control policies.
In April, OPD announced it was revising those policies, even though it did not have the legal authority to do so. When directly asked by reporters and the ACLU and NLG to explain if, when and how those policies have or have not changed, OPD and city officials declined to comment.
The impact of OPD’s accountability issues on the department’s public support was brought home during a recent town hall meeting at Acts Full Gospel Church over the officer-involved shooting death of Alan Blueford, a young African-American male. After Police Chief Howard Jordan was unable to satisfactorily explain the numerous inconsistancies in the case, he was heckled mercilessly by the crowd
Many say it’s not hard to see where the conflict between policy and public lies. At the same time city officials are defending the lack of transparency as necessary to public safety, citizens are demanding greater accountability from Oakland’s city government and its police force.
There may be valid reasons as to why the 100 Blocks haven’t been named. Yet whether the mayor’s crime plan produces significant results or not, the lack of publicly-available information about the plan is problematic, according to Spiker.
“If you develop a very intensive, very significant initiative to reduce crime in the city and then refuse to divulge to the city when and where that is, no, that’s definitely not open and transparent government,” he said.
June 12, 2:30PM: See related story: Mayor Quan responds to Urban Strategies 100 Blocks criticisms | Oakland Local http://bit.ly/M0iGXX