On Saturday, February 25, the Oakland Department of Transportation (OakDOT) installed 35 water-filled plastic traffic diverters along E. 15th St, at the intersections of 16th, 18th, and 20th Avenues. Designed to disrupt cruising on this residential street that also has a school and nearby park, the diverters are part of a larger effort to address community safety and human trafficking.
Human trafficking, sex trafficking and traffic safety have been major community and City priorities for some time, and the traffic diverters are a step in crafting a solution with community at the center.
"Every person in Oakland deserves to live in a safe neighborhood," said Mayor Sheng Thao. "While the traffic diverters may be the most visible sign, we are also supporting victims of sex trafficking, conducting police operations targeting exploiters, collaborating with our state legislators and working to ensure the safety of our residents. When we stand together, we can make meaningful progress on the challenges before us - and that's what we're doing here today.”
Prior to COVID, Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, who represents the San Antonio neighborhood, brought together the community and City leaders in neighborhood meetings on human trafficking, held a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CEPTED) walk along E 15th Street, and led a 2019 City report on human trafficking. From this work emerged several community requests and recommendations from the Councilmember, which are being implemented as a holistic strategy to address human trafficking. This includes law enforcement that targets exploiters, violence prevention, outreach and services, and the April 2022 installation of speed bumps and increased lighting along E. 15th Street. Last November, an updated Human Trafficking Report came to the Public Safety committee, outlining both the larger issues and solutions proposed by community members to address and remedy the impacts.
"Human trafficking has been going on for decades in Oakland and across the state and nation," said Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas. "Working with community and our City Departments, we have a comprehensive approach that includes law enforcement focused on the exploiters, more violence interrupters and outreach workers on the streets, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, like these traffic diverters, and addressing the root causes of poverty and violence with housing, job training, and food security.”
In the three years since the original report on human trafficking was presented at Council, the creation of the Department of Violence Prevention and efforts at Reimagining Public Safety have significantly increased the support provided for victims and survivors. As detailed in the report, in Fiscal Year 2019-20 the City’s expenditures (through the Human Services Department’s Oakland Unite) totaled $950,000 and served approximately 405 individuals. In 2020, that total increased to $1,355,000 and served approximately 527 individuals. Now housed in the Department of Violence Prevention, the programs for Fiscal Year 2022-2023 increased that total to $4.85 million and will serve a total of 4,480 individuals.
"Multiple City Departments have collaborated in this effort, including the Council President’s Office, the Department of Violence Prevention, the Neighborhood Enhanced Services Team, Oakland Police Department, and OakDOT," said Joe DeVries, Deputy City Administrator. "As a result of many neighborhood meetings and brainstorming sessions, the City took direction from the community to take this coordinated cross-departmental action."
Prior to the effort to install diverters, City staff conducted door-knocking with community organizations to residents living along E 15th to share information about the incoming project and gather feedback. Staff will continue to work in partnership with community groups to conduct education, collect information to evaluate project implementation, and engage residents in accessing resources for their community.
“We organize and put in work for the families, the children, seniors, moms, the unhoused, all the residents of the area so that they can be free and live in peace. We've checked in with hundreds of youth and families, along with churches, schools, CBOs, and other organized groups, and we will continue to talk to more and more stakeholders. Please go talk to them and hear their stories,” said Andrew Park, Executive Director of TRYBE.
Signage with project details, contact information, and resources for those who are being trafficked will also be installed, along with other enforcement signage. The City is eager to engage residents in collecting their experiences and thoughts about the diverters and will also be holding check ins with residents to review feedback and share updates.
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