East Bay gun violence gets state’s focus

by Wyatt Buchanan at 11:20 pm, Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sacramento — Gun violence in the East Bay, and particularly in Oakland, has become so problematic that now state leaders are looking at ways to help stop it.

This week, Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles, created a special legislative committee to examine the issue. It is called the Select Committee on Gun Violence in the East Bay, and its members will hold hearings in different communities in the East Bay over the next few months.

Pérez appointed Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, as chairman of the committee and said he anticipates Bonta will “come up with new solutions to help reduce the epidemic of gun violence in the East Bay and in all of our communities. I know that this is an issue that is personally important to him, and I trust that his leadership will help bring resolution to very challenging problems.”

Other members have yet to be named, but Bonta said he expects other lawmakers from the region to join, as well as some who represent other communities in the state that are seeing a surge in gun violence.

While the committee will look at cities throughout the region, Oakland will have a special focus because, Bonta said, it is “ground zero for the gun violence we have seen.”

Last year in Oakland, the number of major crimes increased 23 percent and 126 people were killed, the most since 2006. Oakland had the highest homicide rate of all major cities in the Bay Area. So far this year, there have been 10 homicides in Oakland.

“I am interested in making sure what’s happening in Oakland can be prevented,” said Bonta, the former vice mayor of Alameda. “Literally, our children are being shot and killed and gunned down. And it’s not getting better.”

As chairman of a select committee, Bonta will have additional money for staff and for the work of the committee. He said he plans to hold hearings in East Bay communities, not at the Capitol, and that the first one will be in the next few months.

The committee will also look at what has worked in other communities in the region, including Richmond, which has long been known as one of the most dangerous cities in the Bay Area.

Last year, however, the city had the lowest number of homicides in 11 years, with 18 people killed. So far this year, there has been one homicide.

Henry Washington, pastor at the Garden of Peace Ministries in Richmond and the leader of the antiviolence group Operation Richmond, said there had been success in the city but that it led to funding for the work being cut as crime has diminished.

He said he would like to see lawmakers on the committee look at a kind of community sensitivity training for law enforcement that will help build trust between officers and the people in neighborhoods.

Washington also said that such training should include helping officers be more transparent about why they take the actions they do as they police the city.

“If the community understood the tactics, if they better understood the why, it would make for better community policing,” he said. “Because we’re both on the same side, but it’s hard to communicate when there’s so much tension between the two.”

Get involved
Those interested in working with the Select Committee on Gun Violence in the East Bay can contact Assemblyman Rob Bonta’s office at (916) 319-2018.

Wyatt Buchanan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: wbuchanan@sfchronicle.com