Oakland cuts $18M from police budget to pay for social services
Mayor Libby Schaaf criticized the council’s action, saying it effectively “cuts “50 police officers who respond to Oaklanders’ 911 calls”
By Peter Hegarty
East Bay Times
OAKLAND, Calif. — In a move that signals a major reckoning of law enforcement’s role, the Oakland City Council on Thursday voted to slash $18 million from the police department’s budget over two years and instead spend the money for violence prevention and social services.
The decision was a victory for council president Nikki Fortunato Bas, who swayed the majority of her council colleagues to amend Mayor Libby Schaaf’s proposed budget, which called for an increase in police spending amid the surge of gun violence that has gripped the city.
After the vote, Schaaf issued a statement criticizing the council’s action, saying it effectively “cuts “50 police officers who respond to Oaklanders’ 911 calls and enforce traffic safety.”
She added that the cuts will “significantly reduce police staffing and delay response to Oaklanders in their time of crisis. It will force our officers to work even more overtime shifts, which are expensive and unsafe for officers and residents alike.
“I believe that until we have proven alternatives, we cannot destroy Oakland’s current public safety system at a time when we are losing so many to gun violence.”
Oakland police have reported 60 homicides so far this year, almost twice as many as the 34 reported during the same period in 2020.
“It seems as if we are throwing so much money at the police department, without any clear outcomes,” Oakland resident Cathy Leonard told the council.
But fellow resident Leslie Landberg said the cost of a change of direction was too high.
“Violent crimes will explode,” Landberg said, “as it has in every city where de-funding programs have been implemented.”
Fortunato Bas’ amendments to Schaaf’s budget called for cutting the number of police academies from the four that Schaaf proposed to two in the first year and to freeze vacant sworn officer positions in the Tactical Operations Unit that responds to 9-1-1 calls in the second year of the budget cycle.
Earlier in the week, Schaaf urged residents to back a compromise plan offered by Councilman Loren Taylor, who represents Central East Oakland.
Taylor suggested accelerating the new police officer training academies by holding three, rather than two, this upcoming year, and prioritizing funding another academy in the following year.
Schaaf did not weigh in during Thursday’s council meeting.
Some activists rejected Taylor’s proposal, saying money allocated for police could go toward housing and COVID-19 relief, as well as mobile teams that could respond to people in a mental crisis.
When introducing her budget amendments, Bas said her goal was to spend a year ramping up a civilian crisis team that can respond to non-criminal, non-violence calls such as people experiencing mental health crises.
The council earlier this year unanimously approved spending $1.8 million to pilot the so-called Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland program, or MACRO.
“This is not something we are doing that’s radical,” said Carroll Fife, who represents
Schaaf’s budget proposed bolstering the amount for that program to $2.6 million while Fortunato Bas’ amendments — crafted with a team that included council members Carroll Fife, Noel Gallo and Dan Kalb — would almost triple that sum to $6.2 million.
Fortunato Bas said the civilian crisis team could assist with non-violent calls that a stretched-thin police force should not be spending so much time on.
“Defunding the police married with the exodus of Oakland police officers has stretched the department incredibly thin to respond to the bloodshed on our streets,” Oakland Police Officers’ Association President Barry Donelan said in a statement Monday. “Officers are leaving Oakland to serve communities that want and value their service. The litany of violent crime victims has already demonstrated that Oakland’s ‘defund the police’ strategy has failed.”
According to Assistant Police Chief Darren Allison, the department is authorized to have 788 officers.
(c)2021 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)