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Holly Joshi named head of Oakland’s violence prevention department

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao has named Dr. Holly Joshi head of the Department of Violence Prevention.

Thao announced Joshi’s appointment Monday at a news conference outside Esperanza Elementary School in East Oakland. Joshi succeeds interim chief Kentrell Killens. This is the second permanent head of the department, following the departure of Guillermo Cespedes, who left earlier this year.

Thao praised Joshi as “amazing” and for his long experience working with the city of Oakland.

“She is personally and professionally invested in not only the city of Oakland, but also the individuals who live here, and I think that is extremely important,” Thao said.

The Department of Violence Prevention was established in 2017 to address the root causes of violence, including trauma, poverty and retaliation. The department relies heavily on community-based nonprofit organizations that employ violence interrupters, life coaches and youth leaders to work directly with people affected by violence.

Joshi, a native of East Oakland with a background in gender-based violence prevention and law enforcement, said her family moved to Oakland in 1950 to escape Jim Crow law in the South. She grew up five blocks from the site of Monday’s news conference and attended the local elementary school.

“Oakland was my family’s place of refuge, hope and opportunity, and that’s what every Oaklander deserves,” Joshi said.

Joshi was most recently senior director of the Center for Social Justice at GLIDE in San Francisco. She is a nationally recognized expert in gender-based violence prevention and response. Prior to GLIDE, Joshi worked at Bright Research Group, where she was Director of Racial Justice and Systems Change. She also served as executive director of MISSSEY, Inc., an Oakland-based organization that supports and advocates for trafficked youth.

Joshi has a background in law enforcement. She joined the Oakland Police Department in 2001 and served in various positions. She eventually became an investigator in the department’s child exploitation unit, where she handled cases of human trafficking, sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. She later served as an investigative supervisor for the unit and was part of a task force organized by then-Attorney General Kamala Harris that focused on human trafficking.

Joshi also worked as a public information officer for the department and as chief of staff. She holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from California State University East Bay, a master’s degree in organizational leadership for social justice, and a doctorate in educational leadership from Saint Mary’s College of California.

Joshi will take over a department that mostly avoided painful budget cuts this year after residents and advocates pushed the City Council to restore funding. However, the department relies heavily on dollars from Measure Z, a parcel tax approved by voters in 2014 to fund public safety work. Measure Z expires next year and city officials have yet to propose a replacement.

Joshi told The Oaklandside that, coming from a small community organization, she has the skills to manage a budget and find resources under the proverbial couch cushions. But she stressed that proof of concept was essential to ensuring the long-term financial stability of the department.

“We really need to start and produce some reduction in violence and increase community safety,” Joshi said. “If we do these things, I’m confident we’ll have significant investment.”

Gender-based violence is a strategic axis of the DVP. According to its 2022-2024 strategic spending plan, DVP allocates 25% of its funding to programs to combat gender-based violence, which include 24-hour hotlines, emergency shelters, defense services legal, etc. Joshi said she would ensure that the genre was respected. Violence-based anti-violence programs have the resources they need, but they highlighted the department’s holistic approach to all forms of violence.

“People have a hard time reconciling the intersections between gender-based violence and gun violence,” Joshi said. “But unfortunately it affects the same families, the same individuals and the same root causes cause it. And in most cases, the interventions needed are very similar.

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