Could Biden help curb Oakland crime? Police chief thinks so

There were three homicides in just the past 24 hours in Oakland. Could President Biden's latest executive actions help?

Video Transcript

- Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong was the only law enforcement officer invited to DC for the president's announcement yesterday. He is still in Washington this morning and is joining us live. Chief, first of all, this is the first time we're talking to you since you've been installed, so congratulations on the position.

You are entering this in a time that is quite challenging in Oakland. At one point last month we saw homicides up 314% compared to the year to date from the year before. So what is happening in Oakland that we are seeing such gun violence spike?

LERONNE ARMSTRONG: Well I think we're impacted by several different things. One in particular is an increase in ghost guns. And so being here in Washington and hearing President Biden talk about taking steps to actually produce legislation that would limit these ghost guns I think was good for the city of Oakland. We've experienced three homicides in the last 24 hours in Oakland.

So gun violence continues to be on the rise in Oakland. And to be here in DC and hear the president speak to the families that are the victims of this violence and really hear his commitment to reducing gun violence was really helpful. And I hope that the city of Oakland is the recipient of some of the grant funding that will be granted to cities for violence prevention.

- Chief Armstrong, I think a lot of people might not really understand what ghost guns are. Can you talk about that and what's going on with the ghost guns in Oakland, and how you think this executive action will change things there?

LERONNE ARMSTRONG: Yeah. These are firearms that are manufactured through kits. They come in pieces and are put together by individuals. These guns do not have any serial numbers, and they're unable to be tracked. And so when they're used in the community to commit a shooting, it limits the law enforcement's ability to trace that firearm, trace where it came from, the ballistics related to that firearm.

And so it makes it really challenging as we seek to better understand where these guns are coming from and who used these guns in these particular crimes. And so we also know that these guns are sometimes sold to people who can't purchase firearms for some other reason, whether it's because they have an issue with mental health or they're just not permitted to have a firearm. But they are able to make these guns and not be traced, so that loophole needs to be closed. I think the president touched on that yesterday.

- Chief, you've been with Oakland police now for more than two decades, so you have a lot of experience seeing success in Oakland. It wasn't too long ago there was a 50% decrease in homicides. That was 2012 to 2017. And that's largely because of targeted efforts the Oakland police made. What has changed that those successes have now reversed?

LERONNE ARMSTRONG: Well I think the pandemic had a tremendous impact on law enforcement across the country but in Oakland in particular. Our ceasefire strategy is our primary strategy for reducing gun violence, and we were unable to practice that ceasefire strategy in the same way that we have been doing for many years and seeing a lot of success, like you mentioned. Unable to directly communicate with those at risk, but also unable to do violence interruption like we've done in the past.

Oakland's Department of Violence Prevention has been really successful at making relationships with those that are involved in violence. And because of the pandemic, they weren't able to do violence prevention, and in the same way, we weren't able to directly communicate. And I think as the pandemic begins to move forward in terms of us moving into different tiers, we're able to actually get back to our normal way of doing our ceasefire strategy. And we're looking forward to more direct communication with those involved in violence.

- Chief Armstrong, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate your time.

- Chief, thank you.

- Thank you for having me.