Oakland is on track to record more homicides this year than in any of the last five years, and the reason for the steep jump in gun violence is directly correlated to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the city's interim police chief.
The "perfect storm" of a pandemic, and economic recession, and shelter-in-place requirements have created “pressing fiscal and health challenges — an increase in tension, anxiety as well as diminishing resources of our community," said Oakland's Interim Police Chief Susan Manheimer this week. As the Mercury News reports, her comments were made during a joint meeting of the Oakland City Council, Police Commission, Community Policing Advisory Board, and the Safety and Services Oversight Commission.
Assistant Chief Darren Allison added that an increase in overall gun sales is also increasing the availability of guns in the community — when guns are more likely to be found in the course of robberies, for instance.
Oakland saw 15 homicides in September alone, and the city has seen 79 this year to date. That's five more killings than in all of 2019 in Oakland, and similarly the city counted 75 homicides in 2018, and 76 the previous year. The current homicide count puts the city on track to see more homicides than the 85 it saw in 2016, and potentially even to cross into triple digits, which has not occurred since 2012.
A preliminary report by the OPD finds that assaults involving firearms are up 44 percent this year compared to the same nine months last year, and shootings into occupied homes or vehicles are up 41 percent.
The trend is happening nationwide, with personal and financial tensions escalating for millions of Americans who have either been stuck at home, unemployed, dealing with COVID-19 in their own families, or some combination of the three. Manheimer confirmed in a press conference Wednesday that when she has conference calls with other police chiefs around the country, gun violence is on the rise everywhere.
As CNN reported in July, shooting incidents were up nearly 60 percent in Philadelphia compared to the same period last year, and Chicago has been seeing a spike in gun violence as well. And homicides were up over 20 percent in New York City as well.
Many in law enforcement — though not Oakland's chief — are blaming the spike on the early release of inmates due to the pandemic, and zero-bail ordinances in multiple states to keep prison populations down.
"More people not in jail," is the reason NYPD Chief Terence Monahan gave to CNN. "Rikers Island in New York is empty. Between COVID, between bail reform, the protests caused animosity towards the police, which took us out of neighborhoods that needed us the most."
But a report in June found that violent crime was on the rise in multiple cities before the pandemic began. One of the authors of the report, Thomas Abt, a senior fellow at the Council on Criminal Justice, said that one key reason is a decrease in legitimacy in many communities when it comes to law enforcement and the state itself.
"As legitimacy drops, the people in these communities simply don't use the criminal justice system to mediate conflicts and instead turn to violence," he says."We saw a significant increase in homicides after the unrest in Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago and other places. We may be in for the same thing in the wake of the George Floyd protests."
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