Dellums Administration Rolls Out Public Safety Strategy to Skeptical Community

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday September 18, 2008 - 09:26:00 AM

The administration of Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums introduced its long-awaited public safety strategy to selected members of the Oakland public last week to a pointedly skeptical reaction, outlining an ambitious program in which each of Oakland’s neighborhoods would be organized for citizen participation, work on local public safety problems would be filtered through area public safety coordinating councils made up of city officials, police representatives, and neighborhood groups, and a citywide public safety policy council would oversee city goals and strategies. 

But representatives of the city’s Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils and other invited citizens told city representatives at Lake Merritt’s Garden Center on Thursday that the mayor’s proposed new strategy was top-heavy, was too time-consuming to attack neighborhood problems, and did not provide for enough input from the city’s youth community and residents. 

“You need to quit calling out the community to come and partner with the administration,” said Gloria Jeffrey, co-chair of NCPC Beat 32Y on the MacArthur Corridor in Deep East Oakland. “The administration needs to come out and partner with the community. That’s the problem, so don’t come out here and preach to us about what we need to be doing. We’ve already been working on the problems.” 

A visibly angry Jeffrey and several members of her group walked out of the meeting early. 

Dellums’ interim Public Safety Director Arnold Perkins told meeting participants that the suggestions and criticisms would be considered for incorporation into a final public safety plan, which he said the mayor wants to sign off on within the next two weeks. Perkins said the plan would also be floated to a number of other community-based organizations (including faith-based groups ) and to county representatives and “other stakeholders” before beginning implementation in October. 

Outlines of the proposed Dellums Public Safety Plan have been around for more than a year now. It is based on an expanded theory of community policing, in which public safety grows out of a partnership between city agencies, the police department, and organized neighborhood residents. Under the proposed plan, all city services would be divided up into the three geographical divisions (North and West Oakland to the lake, Lake Merritt to High Street, and High Street to the San Leandro border) that have been set up for the Oakland Police Department. Each area would set its own public safety goals and strategies through a Public Safety Coordinating Council, and would carry out those strategies through Service Delivery (SDS) teams divided between police, city attorney, and city administrative personnel. 

The heart of the Dellums public safety strategy—and perhaps its most controversial component—is developing the current NCPCs (Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils) into the representative organizations for each Oakland neighborhood for the delivery of all city services. Under the category “strengthened community engagement,” the proposed Dellums plan passed out at Thursday’s meeting advocates “expanding [the] scope of Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils beyond crime prevention to function as Neighborhood Councils that address a broader range of neighborhood issues.” 

Assistant to the City Administrator Jeff Baker, the city’s Measure Y violence prevention coordinator, told meeting participants that, in order to have “parity” among the NCPCs, the administration is proposing undertaking extensive training of residents in how to run meetings, organize their communities, and solve community problems. 

Comments from the audience showed that the community public safety activists present were not yet convinced. 

When Perkins urged meeting participants to help with the implementation of the mayor’s plan, saying, “I need for each of you to help make this work,” shouts came back from the audience, “It’s not us. We’ve been working. It’s the city that’s not doing it.” 

As for the plan itself, which included an elaborate flow chart from the NCPCs, the City Council, and city agencies down through the SDS teams, the Public Safety Coordinating Councils, and the Citywide Public Safety Policy Council, a board member of Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) called the proposed organization “structure heavy.” 

That comment was echoed by Jeff Collins, formerly a member of Oakland’s Community Policing Advisory Board, who told city officials, “I’m afraid we have too much structure here. I think we have too many layers to go through.” 

Commenting on one statement that the structure would facilitate the mayor getting reports on what is needed in the community, Collins added, “I don’t think we need to get more reports to the mayor. I think the mayor needs to come out and meet with the NCPCs.” 

Several participants said that the proposed structure left out young people, who were among the principal victims and many of the perpetrators of Oakland’s violence. 

“Young people are asking, why aren’t these meetings announced on MySpace or advertised on KMEL?” said Youth Uprising outreach worker Martina Hardaway, noting that these were the outlets the city ought to use to attract more youth. Hardaway added that there needed to be more action on solving the problems and less talk about setting up new structures. 

“This is a strategic meeting,” she said. “I want to know when you’re going to stop strategizing and start doing something.” 

Others wondered why the various “interest groups” were getting a chance to review the mayor’s proposal separate from the NCPCs and other public safety neighborhood groups, and asked for the plan to come back to the NCPCs after any proposed changes before going into the implementation phase. 

Following the staff presentations, meeting participants met in groups for a half an hour to discuss the proposal, presenting staff with several recommendations for modifications. Perkins said the suggestions would be considered and some of them may make it into the final public safety plan.