Oakland Mayor Jean Quan returned from a trip to Brazil and in general a number of travel obligations that kept her out of Oakland far more than she was in it over the last five months, and to a swarm of controversy about her 100-blocks initiative that, on Wednesday June 27th at 2 PM, degenerated into the most disastrous press conference this blogger has ever seen in Oakland’s mayoral history.
I’ve been involved in Oakland politics in depth and either as columnist, Mayor’s Aide, consultant, or video-blogger, since 1990, and through Mayor Lionel Wilson, Elihu Harris, Jerry Brown, Ron Dellums, and Jean Quan, and this presser – which included City of Oakland Chief Administrative Officer Deanna Santana, Assistant Chief Of Police Anthony Toribio, Mayor Quan’s Senior Public Safety Advisor Megan Harmon, and Robert Batty of the consulting firm Forensic Logic (who’s website is in “stealth mode” as of this writing) – by Quan was the worst I’ve ever seen – nothing comes a close second.
(The Forensic Logic website reads “We’re temporarily in ‘stealth mode’, while we update and expand our website and our business.” Okay!)
The controversy started on May 31, 2012, when the Oakland Urban Strategies Council released a report on crime in the top 100 blocks that were the focus of Mayor Quan’s 100-blocks crime reduction initiative. The Mayor’s 100-block plan, which is summarized here, says that 90 percent of shootings and homicides happened within five percent of the city of Oakland, or about 100 blocks.
The Urban Strategies council issued this press release that said “New research released today reveals that only 17-20% of homicides and serious shootings occurred in the top 100 blocks in Oakland.”
The reason for the study was…
As a trusted community research and intermediary organization we have received dozens of inquiries
regarding which 100 blocks are the focus of the Mayor’s Public Safety Plan first detailed in 2011, along with
dozens of requests for the crime statistics used to support the selection of these 100 blocks. Since the city
has chosen not to release the details of these blocks or their methods and data, we have developed our
own model and conducted an analysis to identify the 100 blocks with the highest levels of shootings and
homicides in Oakland.
To date the city has only published a low resolution map of the 100 blocks and has refused to specify
blocks, regions or to provide any useful methodology (exact data used, procedures, assumptions) arguing
that release might compromise tactical efforts of law enforcement and reluctance to stigmatize the
neighborhoods. As a result of this lack of transparency we have opted to build our own 100 block model
and publish the entire project for full public scrutiny- the raw data, the results and the models. This is how
we expect public policy to be made in a modern city– with full transparency and accountability in decision
making– and, so, we have released this short study as an example of how open, engaged government
Our five year analysis (2007-2011) determined that 17% (598) of homicides and shootings occurred
within the top 100 census blocks in the City. Our single year model for 2011 found that 20% of
homicides and shootings (165) were within the top 100 blocks in the City, compared to 845 homicides
and shootings in the City overall.
This obviously runs counter to the Mayor’s claims and puts the Mayor’s credibility up to question like never before, and wrecks the entire 100-blocks program, revealing it to be a sham.
Anne Campbell Washington To The Rescue
In an attempt to save Mayor Quan’s reputational butt, her still-new Chief Of Staff Anne Campbell Washington went out to the media reporting that they made a mistake. That was done while Quan was away, and at the press conference I was going to ask Mayor Quan if she asked Ms. Washington to make the statements or if Anne went out on her own, but the city’s press rep, Karen Boyd deliberately skipped over my raised hand – and Washington, who’s a friend, was sitting right next to me.
My concern was to see if Washington was playing Joe Biden and essentially saying what needed to be said, and pulling the Mayor along to be correct, much as Biden had done in stating support for Gay Marriage, forcing President Obama’s hand and pushing him to make history.
Ok, some of you don’t like that comparison, but so be it. I thought it was a brilliant move by Anne, but Mayor Quan just plain screwed it up. Give Jean credit: she did say she takes full responsibility for the error. Fine. She started the press conference off by saying that. But then where she started the journey that eventually saw the whole press conference go awry, was when she started to defend the 100-blocks program, saying “we have the right strategy and the right team.” That’s questionable when the strategy is based on a faulty read of the City of Oakland’s crime situation.
But Mayor Quan pressed on.
“We’re beginning to see shootings and homicides slow down,” Quan said. That runs counter to crime statistics showing that in the majority of cases, crime is up in Oakland. For example, here’s a breakdown from Home Security Guru:
As of June 3, 2012 – 47
As of June 3, 2011 – 42
As of June 3, 2012 – 1,085
As of June 3, 2011 – 1,002
As of June 3, 2012 – 1,540
As of June 3, 2011 – 1,201
As of June 3, 2012 – 95
As of June 3, 2011 – 74
As of June 3, 2012 – 4,641
As of June 3, 2011 – 3,461
Motor Vehicle Theft
As of June 3, 2012 – 2,793
As of June 3, 2011 – 2,284
As of June 3, 2012 – 2,305
As of June 3, 2011 – 2,495
As of June 3, 2012 – 71
As of June 3, 2011 – 46
Only “Motor Vehicle Theft” “Larceny” and “Arson” are down in 2012 versus 2011, all of the violent crimes are up in Oakland over 2012. From that perspective, the stategy Quan touts is a major failure. The simple fact is that the City of Oakland is, as Santana said in the press conference, understaffed by 300 officers, and can’t afford to deal with a crime increase that’s due to the tightened Oakland economy that has a 14 percent unemployment rate overall as of this writing.
Quan was clearly trying to play games with numbers and words, but all of that was called on Wednesday. It was sad to have all of the people with Quan quoting from a mantra that “We have the right strategy and the right team.” Given the crime stats, and the lack of resources, there’s no way Oakland can have the “right strategy and the right team” and every reason to think that residents are going to have to start taking crime matters in their own hands. Oakland has an astonishing rate of 426 crimes per square mile in 2011, and versus the national median of just 39. The odds of being a victim in Oakland are 1 in 62 versus 1 in 226 in all of California.
The other problem – and a big one – is we’re only talking about reported crimes. No one knows how many crimes go un-reported in Oakland. Plus, since one OPD person said to the NY Times that they don’t respond to 911 calls much – which I don’t totally believe from experience – we have to ask how many of those calls were not counted as part of the crime data in some way?
The Q and A Period Of The Press Conference
The press was all over the numbers game and because Quan insisted that things were getting better and they were on the right track. My interested was in how Quan came to have the press conference – to me, given the fact that there’s a huge problem, quibbling over data was a teenage conversation that could have easily passed for some of the arguments we had in junior high school at Bret Harte – in Oakland.
The Problem Of Race
My take is that Quan picked that 100-blocks program based on an idea launched when Elihu Harris was Oakland’s Mayor, and in 1997, when I was Economic Advisor and Mike Nisperos was in the role that Ms. Harmon holds today. It was Mike who came up with the 100-blocks plan first – but at a time when the numbers were more concentrated in East Oakland and West Oakland and more thought of as a “black problem” – one of race – not so today. I think Jean focused on that idea herself and based on her own view of Oakland. One that I consider a bit racist at times, even if the intent is benign. In other words, East Oakland and West Oakland are code words for “black crime” – so Jean probably thought, “Who’s going to argue with my urban legend take that 90 percent of all crimes happen in these 100 blocks?”
It was pure folly for the Mayor to have her charges essentially working to bash what the Urban Strategies Council had done, rather than stand with them. Getting Forensic Logic to work for Quan and Santana – a firm with a website that has no information and seems to imply they’re almost broke – was a bad joke.
But it was even worse for her to call out Oakland Councilmember and President Larry Reid.
That was went it all went off the rails.
It started when one reporter said (at the video’s 25:07 mark) that Quan had been criticized for not trying other methods of crime reduction. Moreover it was a total crime to have the Assistant Chief say “crime in trending downward” because there’s no readily available data that show that, and the violent crime stats are up versus 2011. But I digress.
At the 27:28 mark, Quan was asked about supporting curfews, and she said “I actually support curfews, a piece of legislation that Mr. Reid did not want to introduce at that time.” She was referring to Oakland City Council President Larry Reid, who was sitting behind me and to my left on camera. You can hear Larry rev up to explode, then he did “It went out of committee,” Reid blasted, “you were on the committee. I kicked it out of the public safety committee.” Then Larry looked like he was going to bust a gut.
The point he was making was that Quan was Mayor in 2011 when the City Of Oakland Public Safety Committee was at an impass, the matter came to council Quan cast the deciding vote to have the curfew plan tabled. In other words, she killed it.
Now, she’s saying she was for it.
That was what caused Larry to explode. As he told me later, and in this short video, he didn’t plan to say anything while he was in the room. But Larry Reid, in the 19 years I’ve known him, has never once let a mistruth go without attack.
This was his classic moment.
And he wasn’t done. The 15 minute video of Reid’s massive and damaging blast against Quan is uploading at Zennie62 on YouTube now. And now, its up; here it is: