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Oakland police chief: New $18M budget cut leaves city less safe

“We see clearly that crime is out of control,” said Chief LeRonne Armstrong in an impassioned plea. “And our response was for less police resources”

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Oakland Police Department

By Rick Hurd and Aric Crabb
East Bay Times

OAKLAND, Calif. — A newly approved city budget that will prevent an additional $18 million from being used by the police department leaves a city that already is battling an epidemic of violent crime in an even more vulnerable position, the department’s leader said Monday.

In an impassioned plea at a press conference, a sometimes emotional Chief LeRonne Armstrong said there really is only one pertinent question following the approval of the two-year, $3.8 billion budget, which goes into effect Thursday.

“On July 1?” Armstrong asked. “Is the city going to be safer than it is today?”

The Oakland City Council voted 6-2 last week in approving the new budget, which actually increases the police department’s spending by $9 million from $665 million to about $674 million, according to a staff report. However, the police department’s share of the budget will now be 18% instead of 20%, and will not include Mayor Libby Schaaf’s proposal to increase the police budget by an additional $18 million.

Council president Nikki Fortunato Bas swayed the majority of her council colleagues to amend Schaaf’s proposed budget. Armstrong said he supported the mayor’s plan.

“It’s easy to sit in a room and have a discussion as to what public safety looks like,” Armstrong said. “It looks much different when you’re out in the community and meeting with the families. It’s much different when you hear families demand a stronger police response to shootings. It’s easier when you don’t talk to senior citizens and hear them tell you that they can’t sleep at night, because of all the shootings.”

Bas and other council members were not available immediately for comment, but Oakland councilman Dan Kalb (District 1-North Oakland) highlighted what he described as pressing needs to fund city violence-prevention programs “at a scale that it needs to get to have a real impact both short and long term.

“And we decided this year that we’re finally going to say yes to that, we’re finally going to say we are going to start the process, start the allocations to be serious about violence prevention and intervention,” Kalb said.

Gun violence has surged in Oakland this year, Armstrong said. The department has recovered 406 guns so far in 2021, including 108 used in violent felonies and 13 in homicides, according to stats offered by the department. Guns were recovered in 269 felonies, according to statistics offered by the department.

Overall, the city has recorded 65 homicides, with the most recent four happening over a three-day period starting Friday. A year ago at this time, the department had recorded 34.

Armstrong said the department currently has 717 of its 788 approved positions filled (90%).

“Our officers are working tirelessly,” Armstong said. “I’m happy with the effort. But this has to be a collaborative effort. ... This is clearly going to impact us.”

Among the casualties of the new budget will be two additional police academies and the bolstering of other violent crime prevention programs. Armstrong mentioned that and other challenges his department would face when he addressed the council before they approved the budget.

“I’d hoped when I made this very same presentation that it would resonate,” he said. “When we have discussions about the impact of decisions that they’d be taken seriously, but they weren’t. What we’ve seen happen is not OK, and we’re not a safer city as the result of it.”

When asked about academies, Councilmember Kalb said he respected those who had advocated on behalf of inclusion of a fifth academy, but noted there was room for improvement in candidate graduation rates.

“We have about almost 50 people who are in the budget to start the academy. We need to have a better graduation rate. Thirty graduating, 32 out of 50, is not a success story.”

“It goes up and down,” Kalb said of the department’s sworn officer count. “I remember we had in low six hundreds when I first started on the council, and we upped that to get over 700. I’d like to keep us at over 700 if we can, and we’ll see if we need to make adjustments when we are approached here too.”

“Anytime you’re passing a budget in any department, you obviously have to make some choices. That’s what we’re doing,” Kalb said in part. “We’re choosing to make serious investments in violence prevention and intervention and alternative responses. [...] This is the decision that the council made, and now our job together is to implement it.”

(c)2021 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)