Based on news coverage in the Bay Area and throughout the country, most people would probably say Oakland is more violent than ever, that homicides in murder-capital Chicago are out of control and that juvenile crime is spiking. Yet, the facts show that this is all wrong.
Oakland has experienced a 33 percent decrease in homicides in 2013 compared with the previous year, with more than 40 fewer killings. This makes the lowest homicide count in Oakland since 2004.
Violent crime is down significantly throughout the country. Reasons for the increase in safety are widely debated. In Oakland, halfway through the year the city was on target to have an increase in crime. So in the past six months, the reductions have been astronomical. It's no coincidence that it was six months ago that the city began the process to revamp its main violence reduction strategy, Oakland CeaseFire. A recommitment by the police department, service providers and community leaders to focus on the most violent groups and individuals has yielded huge fruit.
Chicago was declared the murder capital of the country this year. What was largely missed in that pronouncement was it was due to further reductions in homicides in New York City, not an increase in Chicago homicides. In fact, in Chicago there were 80 fewer murders in 2013 than in the previous year. Chicago ended 2013 with the fewest homicides on record in the past 40 years.
What do the police and many crime experts credit for the huge drop in violence in Chicago?
Same as in Oakland, a focus on the most violent groups and individuals: directly communicating to them that the violence must stop, offering services and supports, and following up with targeted enforcement.
Let me be clear. One murder anywhere is too much. Violence is still a crisis in America and especially in black neighborhoods. There must be far more resources invested in the most violent communities in America, which not coincidentally are also some of the most impoverished.
I have worked in the fields of criminal justice, youth development and violence prevention for the past 17 years. I have spent most of that time pointing out how very horrible violence is and how we need to recognize the crisis we are confronting. But it is also important to celebrate successes and recognize progress.
Another public misconception is also a good sign of future reductions in violence. Despite common assumptions, juvenile crime is plummeting. According to Department of Justice statistics, in the past 10 years there has been a 32 percent decline in juvenile crime in California.
In the past six years, there has been more than a 50 percent reduction in the number of juvenile filings in Alameda County. Meaning, since 2007, there has been a decline, by more than half, of the number of youths charged with juvenile offenses in the county.
According to data reported to the state attorney general's office, only 10 percent of all felony arrests made by the Oakland Police Department in 2012 were of juveniles. The numbers are similar in most big cities around the country. But even more surprising in Oakland, is that the average age of a homicide suspect in the city in the past two years has been 30 years old.
Youth violence is not the problem in Oakland.
With juvenile crime dropping, this is a sign that crime and violence in the future will only further decline.
So there is much to celebrate in the new year. Crime reduction strategies are working, our communities are safer, and our youth are better.
David Muhammad is the CEO of consulting firm Solutions Inc. He is the former chief probation officer of Alameda County Probation and the former deputy commissioner of New York City Probation.