Oakland poll finds people want to defund police but feel unsafe, want plenty of officers

A city official explained that while residents feel the current public safety model isn't working, they're also unnerved by the recent spike in violent crime


By Phil Matier
San Francisco Chronicle

OAKLAND, Calif. — Despite a growing loss of confidence in law enforcement and apparent support for defunding police, a majority of Oakland voters still want the number of officers to stay the same or even increase — support that includes 70% of the city's African American voters, according to a recent poll commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce.

And while 33% of the African Americans surveyed said their trust in police had decreased in the past year, 54% of respondents said their opinion of police had stayed the same while 11% said their trust in police had increased.

By comparison, 48% of Latino voters said they had lost trust in the police and 38% wanted the police force reduced. However, 45% of Latino voters wanted the police force to stay the same or grow.

"I can't say that I'm surprised by the results," said East Oakland Councilman Loren Taylor, co-chair of the city's Reimagining Public Safety task force. "People don't feel safe, and right now — if there is trouble, the only options for people are 911 or the police."

The questions were part of the Chamber of Commerce's annual Pulse of the City poll of voters. The poll was conducted Oct. 18-21 by the research firm FM3 and has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

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Among the findings:

— Citywide, 38% of the voters said their trust in police had decreased in recent months.

— Fifty-six percent support defunding the police.

— And more than 4 out of 5 voters support shifting tasks like homeless response, mental health response, domestic disturbances and traffic enforcement to other city departments, private companies or community-based organizations.

However, the poll also found that citywide, 58% of voters think the city should maintain or even increase the the size of the police force, compared to 27% who called for reducing the number of police.

West Oakland, a traditionally African American neighborhood that has undergone a tremendous amount of gentrification in recent years, had the biggest police trust gap, with 51% of voters saying their trust in the department had dropped.

The poll comes after a year of questionable police shootings of African Americans in cities across the country and a wave of calls both locally and nationally to cut funding to police or redefine their mission.

At the same time, many cities like Oakland are seeing a surge in violent crime and shootings. The problem is particularly acute in Oakland, where homicides passed the 100 mark this week. In all of 2019, Oakland had 75 homicides.

The question facing the city is finding solutions to both problems.

For example, while 56% said they supported "defunding" the police — including 53% of African Americans — the poll also found 70% of Black voters wanted to maintain or increase the size of the police force. Only 19% wanted the force reduced.

"'Defunding' is a loaded word. It means different things to different people," Taylor said. "What this really says to me is that a lot of folks think the current system isn't working, and we need to look at ways to change the police department to free them up to do the tasks that they're best trained and prepared to do."

Councilwoman Nikki Fortunato Bas, who also co-chairs the Reimagining Public Safety task force, said, "Public safety is about reinvestment in community programs that keep people safe and focusing police resources on addressing the violent crime that they are best trained to respond to."

Meanwhile, here is a number for the folks at City Hall to ponder: 45% of those polled said they feel "less safe" today than a year or two ago.

So while the debate may be about public safety, for the voters it's about personal safety as well.

(c)2020 the San Francisco Chronicle

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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