In recent weeks, both Richmond and Oakland have experienced spasms of violence.
In Richmond, Dimarea Young, 19, was shot and killed Tuesday at point-blank range in front of 20 onlookers while he attended a vocational course -- aimed at reducing violence. It was the latest in a series of brazen daytime shootings.
Meanwhile in Oakland, 12 people were victims of homicide between March 2 and April 9. Within days of each other, Quinn Boyer, a 34-year-old paramedic was fatally shot in his car at a stop sign in the Oakland hills, and Lionel Fluker, 54, a former Oakland Tribune freelance photographer was slain by crossfire in East Oakland as he drove home from the gym.
Yet the response to the escalation in violence from government officials in those cities could not be more different.
Richmond police Chief Chris Magnus wrote a letter to the city manager, City Council and Richmond community acknowledging the crime spike and explaining what specifically the Police Department was doing to address it. "While this rate of homicides is still well below past years, we are deeply concerned about each one of these deaths and we are committed to doing everything we can to stop further violence," Magnus wrote.
In Oakland, however, Mayor Jean Quan's response to a spree of killings was to tout statistics showing that homicides were down compared to the same period in 2012 -- 25 killings compared to 34. "For the last two months, violence in Oakland has been way down. It seems to come in these spurts," Quan told KCBS during an interview broadcast April 8. "So, like, for six weeks there had been no murders east of High Street in East Oakland."
Except that's not the case. Six people were killed there.
Sean Maher, the mayor's spokesman, said KCBS took the quote out of context and that the mayor was in fact talking about gang-related homicides in the context of the Ceasefire strategy's effectiveness -- not all homicides. And that she was only referring to the time period between Feb. 22 through March 30. (KCBS disputed that Quan had ever indicated that she was referring only to gang-related homicides or that the reporter had taken her statements out of context.)
So, in other words, to publicize progress on the crime front, the mayor chose to focus on Ceasefire -- which itself only addresses gang-related shootings mostly in East Oakland -- during a tiny, statistically insignificant period of time?
What's next? Comparisons between 12-hour periods in 2013 vs. 2012?
The very next day, Keith Harding, 29, was fatally shot outside a house in East Oakland where people were growing marijuana.
These are the kinds of sunny mayoral pronouncements based on incorrect or misleading statistics -- from the so-called 100-block plan to the present -- that make many people in Oakland question whether Quan has a firm grasp on public safety issues.
"This selective fuzzy use of math is exactly the sort of thing that undermines public confidence in the leadership of the mayor's office and the City Council," says Joe Tuman, who ran against Quan in 2010. "People want to know that they are taking this problem seriously and are willing to put their money where their mouth is in a way that can make Oakland safer."
Quan is a very effective promoter of Oakland as a place to live and invest. Just this past week, it was announced that Zarsion Holdings Group, a Beijing-based real estate and investment firm, is joining forces with Oakland-based Signature Development Group on a $1.5 billion waterfront project -- Brooklyn Basin -- near Jack London Square. The 65-acre project calls for 3,100 homes, 200,000 square feet of shops, 30 acres of open space and a 200-boat-slip marina.
Quan made the connection to the Chinese company through Bruce Quan, a college friend (no relation) who is a Zarsion official. She promises more deals with Chinese investors.
That's fantastic news. We need more economic development to help pay for more police and other public safety needs.
But we also need to see evidence that Quan has made combating the violence in Oakland her top priority. She could start by designating a point person to coordinate all the existing crime prevention programs in the city. There are a lot of organizations doing good work but no effective oversight to determine where holes or duplication of services exist.
We need real leadership in City Hall if we are to ever have any hope of getting a handle on the city's crime epidemic.