Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao has appointed Dr. Holly Joshi as chief of the Department of Violence Prevention.
Thao announced Joshi’s appointment on Monday at a press conference outside Esperanza Elementary School in deep East Oakland. Joshi is taking over from interim chief Kentrell Killens. She is the second permanent chief in the department’s existence, following the departure of Guillermo Cespedes, who left earlier this year.
Thao praised Joshi as “amazing” and for her long track record of working with the city of Oakland.
“She is personally and professionally invested in not just the city of Oakland, but in the individuals who live here, and I think that is so incredibly important,” Thao said.
The Department of Violence Prevention was established in 2017 to address root causes of violence, including trauma, poverty, and retaliation. The department relies heavily on community-based nonprofit organizations that employ violence interrupters, life coaches, and youth leaders to work directly with people impacted by violence.
Joshi, an East Oakland native who has a background in gender-based violence prevention and law enforcement, said her family moved to Oakland in 1950 fleeing Jim Crow law in the South. She grew up five blocks from the location of Monday’s press conference and attended the local elementary school.
“Oakland was my family’s place of refuge, hope, and opportunity, and that’s what every Oaklander deserves,” Joshi said.
Joshi was most recently senior director of the Center for Social Justice at GLIDE in San Francisco. She is a nationally recognized expert on gender-based violence prevention and intervention. Prior to GLIDE, Joshi worked at the Bright Research Group, where she was the director of racial justice and systems change. She also served as executive director for MISSSEY, Inc., an Oakland-based organization that supports and advocates on behalf of trafficked youth.
Joshi has a background in law enforcement. She joined the Oakland Police Department in 2001 and worked in a variety of roles. She eventually became an investigator in the department’s child exploitation unit, where she handled cases involving human trafficking, sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. She later served as an investigative supervisor for the unit and was part of a task force organized by then Attorney General Kamala Harris that focused on human trafficking.
Joshi also worked as a public information officer for the department and as chief of staff. She holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from California State University East Bay, a master’s degree in organizational leadership for social justice, and a doctorate in educational leadership from Saint Mary’s College of California.
Joshi will be taking over a department that mostly avoided painful budget cuts this year after residents and advocates pushed the City Council to restore funding. However, the department is heavily reliant on dollars from Measure Z, a parcel tax voters approved in 2014 to fund public safety work. Measure Z expires next year, and city officials have yet to propose a replacement.
Joshi told The Oaklandside that coming from a small community-based organization, she has the skills to manage a budget and find resources under the proverbial couch cushions. But she emphasized that a key to ensuring the department’s long-term financial stability is showing proof of concept.
“We really need to get going and produce some reductions in violence and increases in community safety,” Joshi said. “If we do those things I’m confident we’ll have deep investments.”
Gender-based violence is a strategic focus of the DVP. According to its 2022-2024 strategic spending plan, DVP allocates 25% of its funding to programs that address gender-based violence, which includes 24-hour hotlines, emergency shelter, legal advocacy, etc. Joshi said she’ll make sure gender-based violence programs have the resources they need, but emphasized the department’s holistic approach to all forms of violence.
“People have a hard-time reconciling the intersections between gender-based violence and gun violence,” Joshi said. “But unfortunately it impacts the same families, the same individuals, and the same root causes are causing it. And in most cases the interventions that are necessary are very similar.”