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Oakland Beat Health Program

Ages 5-35

Rating: Level 3


The Oakland Beat Health Program is a civil remedy program. It uses procedures and sanctions specified by civil statutes and regulation to prevent and reduce criminal problems and incivilities. Civil remedies generally aim to persuade nonoffending third parties to take responsibility and action to prevent criminal behavior. Beat Health uses civil remedies to control drug and disorder problems by teaming police with city agency representatives to coerce landlords to clean up properties, post “no trespassing signs,” enforce civil codes and municipal regulations, and initiate court proceedings against property owners who fail to comply with civil law citations. Civil remedy programs are designed to be proactive and concentrate on prevention.

The Beat Health Unit consists of a small group of patrol officers mandated to reduce drug and disorder problems in Oakland, Calif. The unit is made up from five teams, each including a uniformed officer and a police service technician. Civilian Neighborhood Service Coordinators serve as liaisons between the Beat Health teams and active community groups.

The Beat Health team will open a “case” 1) after preliminary site visits to a zone that is identified as a potential problem, owing to a high number of narcotic arrests, citizen complaints, or 2) at the request of community groups. Beat Health teams try to establish relationships with place managers (landlords, managers, owners, or tenants of properties) or with others who hold a stake in improving the conditions of the case location. During the intervention, police communicate landlords’ rights and tenants’ responsibilities, provide ideas for crime prevention measures, and assist civilians in contacting city or community agencies (for legal, ordinance, and rental information). Officers maintain contact with property owners and place managers for 6 months afterward.

Beat Health officers also coordinate site visits with the Specialized Multi-Agency Response Team (SMART), composed of a group of city inspectors. Based on initial assessments made by the police, representatives from various agencies such as housing, fire, public works, gas, and electric or vector control are invited to inspect, enforce city codes, and offer solutions to related issues.


The evaluation examined the impact of a civil remedy program using a block randomized experimental design for a hundred city blocks in Oakland, Calif. Each of the hundred sites was referred to the Beat Health Unit through community organizations (50 percent), anonymous drug hotline calls (25 percent), or hot-spot searches of high numbers of arrests based on data from the previous 6 months (25 percent). Seventy-seven percent of the study sites were rental properties, and owners occupied the remaining 23 percent. Ten of the sites were unoccupied, and the most common situation entailed a family member of an elderly owner involved in drug dealing.

Fifty street blocks were randomly assigned to the Beat Health program and compared with 50 control sites that received traditional enforcement tactics. Moreover, the randomized block design assigned commercial properties to one block and residential properties to a second. The design also created a spatially distinct experimental unit of analysis free from potentially confounding influences of spatially close sites.

Drug dealing was reported as a major problem in three fourths of the locations (both experimental and control). Other complaints included drug use, blight, noise, prostitution, trespassing, animal safety, and other health and welfare issues. Through visitation and SMART inspections, Beat Health officers initiated formal actions to solve drug and disorder problems as needed. Formal actions for the 50 experimental sites included SMART inspections, general warning letters, issuing beat orders, organizing property cleanups, and working with owners to evict troublesome tenants.

Site visits, actions taken, and the length of time spent at a location by the Beat Health officers were tailored to the specific needs of the location, often resulting in varied outcomes for each experimental location. The evaluation used calls for service, social observations, and interviews with place managers to determine the impact of Beat Health on drug and disorder problems over a 6-month period.


The 50 experimental sites targeted by the Beat Health program evidenced decreases in signs of disorder, decreases in males selling drugs, and increases in signs of civil behavior in public places. Using data from 12 months before and 12 months following the 6-month intervention, the evaluation found a statistically significant difference between the control and experimental groups: a 7 percent decrease in the average number of drug calls per experimental site, while the average number per control group increased 54.7 percent. Although police calls increased for both the experimental and control groups, the experimental group experienced a significantly lower number of drug-related service calls. The control-treatment blocks increased in drug problems, particularly at commercial properties. Although the Beat Health program seems to be effective in reducing drug problems, the study indicated no significant difference between experimental and control groups when violent crime, property, and disorder problems were examined. The study also found improvement in drug problems in the areas surrounding the experimental residential sites.

Risk Factors


  • Availability of alcohol and other drugs
  • Availability of firearms
  • Community crime/High crime neighborhood
  • Community instability
  • Economic deprivation/Poverty/Residence in a disadvantaged neighborhood
  • Low community attachment
  • Neighborhood youth in trouble
  • Social and physical disorder/Disorganized neighborhood

Protective Factors


  • Clear social norms / Policies with sanctions for violations and rewards for compliance
  • High expectations
  • Nondisadvantaged neighborhood
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults
  • Prosocial opportunities for participation / Availability of neighborhood resources
  • Rewards for prosocial community involvement
  • Safe environment / Low neighborhood crime


Mazerolle, Lorraine Green, James Price, and Jan Roehl. 2000. “Civil Remedies and Drug Control: A Randomized Field Trial in Oakland, California.” Evaluation Review 24(2):212–41.

Mazerolle, Lorraine Green, and Jan Roehl. 1999. Controlling Drug and Disorder Problems: A Focus on Oakland’s Beat Health Problems. National Criminal Justice Reference Service, National Institute of Justice. U.S. Department of Justice: Washington, DC.


Bob Crawford
Oakland Police Department, Beat Health Program
455 Seventh Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Phone: (510) 777-8638