The speakers at the meeting included Chief Ron Davis, East Palo Alto Police Department; Dr. Robert Hoover, Free at Last, Recovery and Rehabilitation; Federico Rocha, Captain of the Criminal Investigations Division Violence Interdiction Team; Pastor Paul Bains, Senior Chaplain for the East Palo Alto Police Department.
It was billed as the first in a series of Chat with the Chief meetings for 2011. At the start of the meeting, East Palo Alto’s Police Chief Ron Davis presented statistics to show the significant progress East Palo Alto has made over the past five years in reducing violent crimes in the city. He also spoke about the challenges the city faces over the next five years.
In referring to the statistics, Davis said that homicides are down 50%, from 8 to 4. Five years ago 15 people were killed in the city. Assaults with a fire arm/shootings are down 55%, going from 88 to 40. Five years ago, the figure was 122. Davis emphasized that while no crime is acceptable, “We are on the right track,” he said. The statistics presented showed that there has been a continual decline in violent crimes overall, and a consistent downward trend in crime with violent crimes dropping 22% in the last 22 years. Davis attributed this significant drop in crime to the efforts of the East Palo Alto community.
But, Davis warned that the challenges for the next five years will be more significant than in the previous five years, since he said the dynamics have changed. Davis said that when he came into office in 2005, there was a 19% vacancy rate. But using the same 9 million dollar budget allotted to the police department each year since 2005, he said that he has been able to fill various positions leaving only one vacancy in the police department. By securing additional funding from alternative grants, Davis said that he was able to put 20% more officers in the field, implement more programs and increase services without increasing cost. Now, he said that current and future structural deficits may call for reductions in the police department.
Demand increasing, funding decreasing
Davis said that since the demand for services is increasing, while the grant monies are decreasing, there will be a call for more collaboration among nonprofits and other services. As an example of decreased funding, Davis said that the East Palo Alto Police Department was slated to receive $475 thousand and another 5 million for programs, but the realignments in Washington and Sacramento caused those funds to vanish. On a positive note, he said that there is a possibility of this funding returning in a different context. “This doesn’t mean we can’t continue,” Davis said. “It means we need to be more creative in how we secure more grants. It means more private and public partnerships.”
According to Davis, East Palo Alto has the most understaffed police department in the United States per capita. Since the city’s general fund for 2011-12 will be more challenging because of the economy, David said that he is working to form a police foundation with the support of at least three Fortune 500 companies in the near future. The foundation will provide structural support for training, equipment and programs that support community endeavors, along with increased shared resources. Davis said that he is looking at ways to increase efficiency through technology rather than by adding staff and considering ways to collaborate with local, county, state and neighboring jurisdictions. He said, “When we have less, the more resourceful you have to be in strategic planning and implementation.”
East Palo Alto shaping the debate
Davis stated that East Palo Alto has helped shape the national and statewide debate on reentry programs for parolees as a viable strategy. He pointed to the nexus between the decrease in crime and the increase in the population in prison as proof that the current incarceration policy must be working. He said that more jurisdictions will be adopting East Palo Alto’s reentry program as a model. In addition, CalTrans might begin a reentry program for 20-30 parolees. According to Davis, this will help the reduction in recidivism.
Dr. Robert Hoover, a long time community activist in East Palo Alto who worked as the Parole Director for Free At Last, said that, over a two and half year period, the re-incarceration rate was over 70% for the State of California. But he said that for Free At Last it was about 23%. For Hoover the most important thing, in terms of the re-entry program at Free at Last, is that those who completed the program are working, back in college or have completed high school with a GED. He said that the participants in the reentry program have been reunited with their families, something he feels is most important. Hoover emphasized the fact that the parolees who went through the re-entry program have become valuable citizens in the community and have become involved with programs in the community that help others. In Hoover’s estimation, this is a huge accomplishment, which, to a large degree, is the result of Chief Davis’ work and the result of the efforts of the late David Lewis who started the Free at Last program.
The East Palo Alto Police Department has secured two grants for Operation Cease Fire: 1) 200K from California Gang Reduction, Intervention & Prevention program (Cal Grip), coming from the California governor’s office and, 2) 215K to strengthen Operation Ceasefire (coming from federal funds). Operation Ceasefire will run for the next two years and it is being implemented to give violent offenders a second chance.
Under the program, offenders, who have engaged in violent activities will be given the option of changing their lives. If they accept the opportunity, they will have resources available at their disposal. If they reject the opportunity and continue to engage in violent activities, then, according to Davis, they will have the full force of the law brought against them.
Federico Rocha, Captain of Criminal Investigations Division Violence Interdiction Team is spear-heading the Operation Ceasefire program which he hopes will become an initiative; a philosophy; a way to help main stream people back into society. During the meeting, Rocha said that remediation is always more expensive, since law enforcement is always more expensive to the taxpayer. For Rocha, Operation Ceasefire is a “Public Safety” initiative. He said that it will address the underlying issues behind a crime and the causal factors that contribute to an offender’s actions.
In speaking at the meeting, Pastor Paul Bains, the Senior Police Chaplain told how Chief Davis sent several of the chaplains to a three-day training session last year. Bains, said, “It wasn’t until then that I paid close attention to Operation Ceasefire. This program doesn’t leave the perpetrator without any hope. The faith-based community has been doing transformation since the beginning of time.”
Bains continued, “While we are not here to proselytize anybody, we are here to give them a hand up; someone to walk along side them to help, talk, work with them through their issues and let them know that we care. The police department cares to help these individuals come back into society."
During the meeting, it was stated that eleven people have been invited to be a part of the Operation Ceasefire program starting March 1. Referral specialists will connect to all the service providers to make recommendations regarding jobs, housing, counselors, trauma, health and human services, mental health services, etc. Under the program, pastors and police chaplains can act as case managers and counselors. It was stressed that the program is about stopping violence, not about providing all services to all people. It is not a pie in the sky answer to crime; but it is a no nonsense program to help reduce crime. It is each individual’s response to the program that will make it successful.
There are about nine cities that have adopted this program including East Palo Alto, Oakland, Richmond, Stockton, Salinas, Union City, Bakersfield, Sacramento, Los Angeles. In Oakland, 60 offenders were brought into the program and only 4 re-entered the prison system. For more information, Google The National Network of Safe Communities.
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