Department of Violence Prevention Chief Guillermo Cespedes said the $6 million state grant will be focused entirely on gun violence prevention efforts. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

After years of progress that saw a drop in shootings and homicides, violence in Oakland and other cities spiked during the pandemic. Although gun violence rates have started to decline again in 2022, they remain higher than the past decade’s average.

On Tuesday, city officials, state representatives, and violence prevention workers gathered at a press conference to announce an infusion of $6 million into Oakland’s gun violence prevention programs.

“In the year to date, we have seen a 24% reduction in homicides and shootings combined but that is not good enough by a long shot,” Mayor Libby Schaaf said. Schaaf and others mentioned the shooting at a youth football game on Sunday at Oakland Technical High School as an example of the trauma they hope to prevent.

The funds come through a state California Violence Intervention and Prevention (CalVIP) grant that will last for three years. East Bay Assemblymember Buffy Wicks authored the legislation that increased CalVIP funding.

“We want to get to the heart of some of the core issues I believe our communities are suffering from historically,” said Kentrell Killens, a life coach and case manager with Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention. “With this type of investment, we get to bring in and sustain for three years individuals who once were life coach participants, clients, and are now active leaders within their community to reduce violence.”

Guillermo Cespedes, the chief of Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention, said the grant money will pay for programs tailored to work with families whose loved ones have been impacted by gun violence, including people at higher risk of being shot or of shooting someone. The grant will also pay for street outreach to try to prevent retaliatory cycles of violence, and cognitive and behavioral therapy to help people transform their lives.

“This grant is the first that I know of in which the emphasis will be on working with individuals at the highest level of risk and working with that individual’s family at the highest level of risk,” said Cespedes. “We are convinced that we have been able to accomplish individual behavior change in the past. We want that change to be sustainable.”

The grant will also fund crime prevention through environmental design projects, such as adding street lights and changing the physical designs of spaces where violence is more likely to occur.

Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention, established in 2017, was given a major funding increase in 2021 as part of the city’s effort to reimagine public safety and grow preventative programs rather than expecting only the police to respond to gun violence.

Cespedes said his department recently was able to allocate about $19.3 million of its budget to organizations that will provide services directly to the community. The state grant of $6 million is a sizeable addition to this spending and will allow Oakland to hire six additional life coaches and one supervisor.

According to a report by the DVP, there are three groups or gangs in Oakland—Case/Acorn, ENT/Ghost Town, and Norteños—made up of about 192 individuals who are responsible for the majority of “group-driven gun violence.” By identifying these individuals and working closely with them and their families, the city’s violence prevention workers hope to intervene in cycles of violence and significantly reduce shootings.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.