Oakland City Council approves new police academy to boost staffing

The program will be funded by savings from vacancies in this year's academies


By Annie Sciacca
Mercury News

OAKLAND — In an effort to boost the number of police officers on city streets, a majority of the City Council voted Tuesday to add a fifth police training academy to the four already planned and explore adding a sixth next year.

The resolution approved by the council Tuesday authorizes the city administration to use cost savings from vacancies in this year's police academies to launch an extra academy and directs the city administrator to return to the council with information about the costs of adding a future — sixth — academy next year.

"When your home is broken into or you hear gunshots outside your door, or when walking to your car alone at night, you want to feel safe," Council President Pro Tem Sheng Thao, who , said in a statement after the vote Tuesday. "I've heard from constituents for months that when they hear gunshots and call 911, they don't get a response."

Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas and District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife both voted "no" on the plan, arguing that it was still unclear whether spending more money on police academies would solve the rise in gun violence that has plagued the city over the last 18 months.

The debate about adding more academies less than three months after the council approved its budget thrust the city back into the middle of a contentious debate about how to fund public safety and what to do with a police department that has regularly overspent its budget.

Each police academy, which trains potential officers over the course of about 27 weeks, costs between $3.4 and $4 million.

Thao, who voted in June with the majority of the council to reject a proposal by Mayor Libby Schaaf to increase police academies at the time, said that her new proposal approved Tuesday was a more thought-out approach that would ensure fiscal responsibility and better policing, and that it was needed if the city wanted to keep raking in funds from Measure Z, a parcel tax that voters approved in 2014 to boost police staffing and community violence prevention services.

The measure requires the city to maintain at least 678 sworn officers before the money can be used, unless an exemption is approved. With 694 officers currently and a lot of recent attrition, police and city officials said the number of sworn officers could dip below 678 this November.

Thao's resolution directs the city administrator to "enhance" efforts to recruit people into the police academies who have diverse backgrounds and from local community colleges. The goal is to get more officers who are Oaklanders or East Bay residents and have ties to their community, she said.

Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said the department is strengthening partnerships with local colleges like Merritt College, Laney College, CSU East Bay, Holy Names, and others to recruit potential officer trainees for the academies.

The resolution passed Tuesday also directed the city administration to explore the costs of providing childcare to police trainees in the academy.

Police and city leaders expressed hope that an option for that would boost the number of women in the police force. According to a memo from the police department, 34 women have completed the academies since 2018 — compared to 167 men.

Since last spring, city officials have faced mounting pressure to do something about the rising number of homicides and gun violence crime in Oakland. A Monday homicide became — bringing the homicide rate to triple digits for the second year in a row. Last year, the city reported its 100th homicide in December and ended the year with 109.

While the gun violence has touched all corners of the city, it has most heavily impacted East Oakland.

District 7 Councilmember Treva Reid noted during Tuesday's meeting the heavy burden on her neighbors.

"The gun violence has been relentless this year," she said. "We have had enough. My heart hurts for us, and we need help."

Fortunato Bas acknowledged the crisis, but questioned aloud whether the current system of police funding is actually working.

"Our communities demand peaceful, safe neighborhoods, fair treatment and more importantly, results," she urged. "We need effective, accountable policing — a police force that is better able to focus on solving serious and violent crime."

Pointing to a high rate of unsolved homicides and other violent crimes, she said, "the status quo is not yielding results."

The budget approved by the council in June increased police funding by $38.5 million over what the department spent the previous year. While Schaaf wanted a budget that more, the council reallocated nearly $18 million of her proposed police increases to go to other public safety services, including investments in civilian responses to mental health and other non-crime crises.

Like Fortunato Bas, Fife pointed out the importance of that investment as an example of investing in communities to prevent crime.

"The more we invest in punishment, the less we will have to invest in prevention," Fife said. "We are consistently asked about community support — 'we need the community,' 'OPD needs the community.' Well, the community needs to be resourced."

(c)2021 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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