Outreach workers to go to high-crime neighborhoods

January 24, 2011 6:52:31 PM PST
The number of outreach workers on Oakland's streets will more than double by this weekend. It is all part of the city's ongoing effort to combat crime in its most dangerous neighborhoods. The men and women willing to walk the city's most dangerous neighborhoods are not police officers, they are just doing their part to stop violence.

Oakland's newest outreach workers are from the neighborhoods they are now reaching out to. Many have been in trouble themselves.

Outreach worker Akil Truso did prison time for drug crimes, but has turned his life around.

"A lot of the people out here in West Oakland in particular, I've been to prison with," Truso said. "I think through my change they're seeing there's another way."

After completing their three-day training, the workers will be assigned to one of four Oakland neighborhoods deemed the city's most dangerous based on the frequency of shootings and homicides.

"They are explicitly charged with being out late at night, on weekends in the highest crime neighborhoods in Oakland," Oakland Human Services Department spokesperson Sara Bedford said.

In those hot spots, they will focus on forging relationships with high risk young people, defined as those under the age of 35 with gang affiliation, on probation or parole, a past victim of gun violence or someone with a history of gun use.

"I feel being able to help young kids get off the streets is a good cause, being able to help them live better lives," outreach worker Bill Lauti said.

While the outreach workers have the support of police, it will not be a reciprocal relationship.

"We know that if at any point they are perceived as being working for the police, that they're credibility, their relationships and their lives could be at stake, so we don't ask them for any type of information at all," Oakland Police Department Asst. Chief Howard Jordan said.

The workers understand that a certain amount of danger comes with the territory.

"I think being able to be out there, put my life at risk to help a life, that's a great thing," Lauti said.

The very existence of the program depends on making sure the line between the outreach workers and the police is clearly drawn.