As shock, horror, grief, rage and fear grip us as the world erupts into more war, let’s not lose sight of the needs in our community.
On Sept. 27, two guns were confiscated from two Berkeley High students. In response, members of the Berkeley High School Safety Committee wrote an opinion encouraging the school board and BHS administration to implement recommendations from over 12 years ago that primarily endorse more police and safety officers on campus.
While additional police might make some feel more secure, the data show that it will not actually reduce crime or gun-related violence. In fact, a national review of spending on state and local police over the past 60 years shows no correlation between spending and crime rates. In Berkeley, the city council continues to increase the police budget, but this investment has not decreased violent crime.
In June 2022, the Berkeley City Council allocated $2 million to create a gun violence reduction and prevention program. This kind of program has had great success in neighboring jurisdictions. Over a five-year period, Oakland’s Ceasefire drove an almost 50 percent reduction in homicides and injury shootings. Stockton’s Advance Peace program dramatically decreased homicides even during COVID-19, when gun incidents were rising in Berkeley and around the country.
Berkeley has the ingredients that would make such a program an unconditional success: national experts who have designed and implemented Ceasefire-type programs locally and nationally actually live in Berkeley; these experts have relationships with those who are most at risk of being a victim and/or perpetrator of gun violence; and we have city leaders who claim public safety as one of their utmost priorities.
Thus far, there appears to be no political will to realize such a program. In mid-October 2022, the city manager issued a memo that BPD had been assigned to design and implement the Ceasefire program. This is unusual, and it undermines the success of the program since those most at risk of being victims or perpetrators of gun violence often don’t trust the police. Six months later, Interim Police Chief Jen Louis said that law enforcement-based approaches wouldn’t be as effective in Berkeley as community-based approaches. And yet now, another half year on, nothing has happened.
We must direct our efforts toward a proven solution to reduce gun violence and make all of Berkeley safer. David Muhammad, a Berkeleyan who runs the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, which has created Ceasefire-type programs in the Bay Area and around the country, said, “If we had the full access, information, data and cooperation from the city (including the Berkeley Police Department), due to being able to leverage some of the work in Oakland, a program in Berkeley could be implemented in as little as three months.”
At that rate, five of these programs could be operating by now. We must not wait for another tragedy. Now is the time to unify our voices and demand a Ceasefire-type of program be prioritized immediately to reduce and prevent gun-related incidents at Berkeley High and in our larger community.
Bill Press and Elana Auerbach are Berkeley High parents.
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