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Oakland homicides drop to lowest level since 1999

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Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said on Thursday that a “holistic approach” to public safety led to an overall crime dip in 2018 and her city’s lowest homicide total in nearly two decades.

Speaking at a crowded news conference in her office, Schaaf said:

“We have much more work to do, but I am excited that all families in Oakland live in a far safer community than they did just six years ago.”

She said:

“Undoing the cycles of gun violence has taken time and resilience.”

The mayor, who was joined by Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and Capt. Ersie Joyner, said Oakland finished 2018 with 68 homicides, the lowest total since 1999, when there were 60 killings.

There were 71 homicides in 2017 and 85 in 2016.

Schaaf said the four-year average for homicides is also at a historic low, dropping lower than any other time since police began tracking that information in 1985.

Kirkpatrick said she’s encouraged that overall major crimes declined by 11 percent compared to 2017, with residential burglaries down 20 percent and auto thefts down 25 percent.

But she said two areas of concern are that commercial burglaries increased by 42 percent and arsons jumped by 26 percent.

Joyner attributed much of the drop in violent crime to improved community bonds and Operation Ceasefire, an initiative started in 2012 that involves police, prosecutors, community leaders and service providers meeting with reputed gang members to offer support and tell them that gun violence must stop.

Joyner said, “We embrace those who want to make changes in their lives.”

Joyner said the Ceasefire program represents a new way of policing gangs and realizing that police can’t arrest their way out of the problem.

Joyner said:

“In the last 28 years it has not been successful as a city or police department for us to try to eliminate gangs. What we’ve tried to do for the past six years is eliminate gang violence.”

City Councilman Larry Reid said his District 7 seat in East Oakland “was once known as the killing fields of the city” because there were so many homicides there but he said “the area I represent is a safer place now.”

Reid, who was elected to the council in 1996, said there were 165 homicides in Oakland in 1992, when he was chief of staff to former Mayor Elihu Harris, but he said:

“There’s been a reduction in the level of violence.”

Reid said:

“It’s a start, although we’re not finished yet.”

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