Alameda County gets new chief probation officer
OAKLAND -- David Muhammad knows what propels many of the city's youth to turn to crime.
a self-admitted former "street thug" who sold drugs, witnessed violent
crimes and once was arrested -- but never charged -- for attempted
Muhammad lived the life that many city teens fall in to,
but said he was lucky to be placed in a mentoring program that convinced
him to follow a different path. That path led to a college degree and
life dedication to helping those who have broken laws and need help
escaping the violent cycle that defines many of Oakland's inner-city
It has also led him back home where he was named Tuesday as Alameda County's new chief probation officer.
is an incredible feeling to have the opportunity to come back home and
work with a system that I have been involved in," Muhammad, 36, said.
"It was just an opportunity I could not pass up."
returning to Oakland after two successful stops in major East Coast
cities where he was credited for changing the way probation departments
deal with chronic criminals.
As chief of committed services for
the Department of Youth Rehabilitating Services in Washington, D.C.,
Muhammad gained attention for helping install a new attitude and a
program that sent teens to teams of counselors instead of jail for
crimes they committed.
After four years in the nation's capital, Muhammad took a job in New York City where he worked as deputy commissioner of probation.
But it was
his connection to Oakland that finally convinced him to return even
though, he admits, the decision to leave the Big Apple was "agonizing."
over California's budget crisis and the cutbacks to all government
agencies that go with it weighed on Muhammad's decision, he said. As did
leaving the largest city in the country where he had established
relationships and was well-respected.
But the chance to return to
the streets where he grew up and to work with teens and adults who face
the same adversity he once did convinced Muhammad to take the position
in Alameda County, he said.
Muhammad was one of four finalists out
of 38 candidates who applied for the position that became vacant in
April. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors finally selected Muhammad
Tuesday, eliciting praise from community groups who had criticized the
secrecy of the supervisor's selection process.
said Sumayyah Waheed, director of the Books Not Bars campaign at the
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. "David Muhammad has proved himself,
he comes from here and he has a proven track record of involving the
The selection completes a circle for Muhammad, whose
life began to change when he was sent to the probation department after
being arrested as a youth.
That change came when he was enrolled
in the Omega Boys Club and the Oakland Mentoring Center, a nonprofit
organization that counsels troubled teens and helps them find ways to
live a life free of crime.
The counseling helped push Muhammad toward college and he graduated in 1996 with a journalism degree from Howard University.
After several years working as a journalist, Muhammad returned to the Oakland Mentoring Center as its executive director.
Eventually, Muhammad moved on to larger positions, taking the job in Washington, D.C., and later in New York City.
Muhammad acknowledges that some worry he would be soft on crime because
of his troubled youth, he said Tuesday that those experiences have
helped him connect with teens and fashion programs that will actually
"It's an incredible feeling both personally and
professionally to be able to relate to those affected by the probation
department," Muhammad said. "There are some people who only know part of
the story and have a misconception that I am going to come in and do
some crazy things.
"I have a long standing history of working with
law enforcement," Muhammad said. "We have to be more creative and
innovating in helping young people and adults and making sure folks have
In Alameda County, Muhammad said he hopes to
develop many of the same programs that he did on the East Coast and get
the community more involved with the probation department.
a million ideas but I am first going to listen to the staff, listen to
the community and listen to the stakeholders," he said. "Good, bad or
indifferent, I want the community to know and be involved in what we are