'Not tolerable': After 5 killings in a week, Oakland police chief pleads with community

With gun violence and homicides on the rise, Chief LeRonne L.Armstrong gave an impassioned "call to action for everyone in this city"

By Annie Sciacca
East Bay Times

OAKLAND, Calif. — After a 55-year-old man became the fifth person killed in Oakland in less than a week and the city's 87th homicide victim this year, the police chief and local clergy issued a public plea Thursday for a stop to the gun violence.

"This is a call to action for everyone in this city, at every level," police Chief LeRonne L. Armstrong said at a press conference. "This is not tolerable."

Oakland had 11 homicides in August alone, or one every three days. The city's homicide rate of 87 so far in 2021 is on pace to easily surpass last year's total of 109 — the first triple-digit homicide rate since 2012.

Last year, the city had 64 homicides at the end of August and 50 by the same time in 2019.

In an effort to stem the violence, Armstrong said he was rotating officers from desk or non-uniform assignments "out into the street to provide more coverage." As a result, six people have been added to the homicide investigations team, bringing the total to 15.

It's not the first step the department has taken to fight the carnage. In an interview last month, Armstrong said he set up a "violence operations center" that can dispatch teams to violent crimes throughout the city as needed instead of sticking to assigned geographical areas.

Appearing with Armstrong at Thursday's press conference were Billy Dixon and Damita Davis-Howard, two Oakland religious leaders who work with police, healthcare professionals and other service providers in the city's Ceasefire program to intervene in situations of escalating or retaliatory violence.


They have one-on-one conversations with victims of gun violence who may be at risk of perpetuating gun crimes or retaliating against attackers. The goal is to help people get the services and opportunities they need to avoid dangerous situations, such as relocating them or helping them get money to support their families.

"We know young men will put down the guns when given opportunities to make real changes," Davis-Howard explained.

The pandemic hampered the Ceasefire program last year by reducing opportunities for the face-to-face conversations that are effective in discouraging violence.

The proliferation of guns hasn't helped either, according to police and violence prevention advocates.

Armstrong said the department has recovered 800 firearms from the streets so far this year. They include rifles and "ghost guns" that can be assembled from kits mailed to people's homes without traceable serial numbers. Although he did not specify how many ghost guns were recovered, Armstrong said the department is getting help from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to investigate those weapons.

Oakland police data shows that other gun crimes also are on the rise. While burglaries and larcenies have declined, armed robberies have increased by 50% from the same time last year, to 717 reported incidents. In 2019, there had been 664 armed robberies at the same time.

Carjackings have doubled to 329 so far in 2021, compared to 165 last year at this time and 141 the year before.

The City Council adopted a 2021-2023 budget that added $17.4 million to double the Department of Violence Prevention's budget and increased police spending by about $38 million over what the department spent the previous two years.

But Armstrong noted the police department is down to 698 officers; it's budgeted to have 737.

With the long Labor Day weekend in mind, Armstrong and the church leaders turned their call to action into a desperate plea.

Pastor Dixon directed his comments toward those thinking of picking up guns.

"If you see me, stop me, talk to me," he begged. "Let's have a conversation; let's see if we can stop you from feeling like you have to defend yourself."

Armstrong implored the friends and family of those with firearms to try to intervene.

"If you see your loved one armed with a firearm, we ask that you step in," Armstrong said. "You don't have to wait for a funeral to give people flowers. ... Intervene. Save their lives."

(c)2021 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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