Despite a recent spike in violent street crimes and homicides, the Oakland City Council approved a two-year budget on Thursday night that shifts more than $18 million from the police department to relatively new city programs and social services.
“With this particular budget we are showing that we can not only reimagine, we can take action,” said Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas after the 7-2 vote.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the $3.8 billion adopted budget was a counterproposal to Democratic Mayor Libby Schaff’s plan to increase police funding slightly. She said the cuts would “force our officers to work even more overtime shifts, which are expensive and unsafe for officers and residents alike.”
The dissenting votes came from Councilmembers Treva Reid and Loren Taylor, who represent districts in East Oakland.
“The whole problem is the focus on defunding,” said Councilman Taylor in an interview with KGO News. “My residents in East Oakland overwhelmingly say let’s make sure we have a solid baseline of support until these alternatives are in place in a way we can depend on.”
The head of the police union told KPIX News that City Council’s decision means about 50 vacant positions on the force will not be filled, predicting that would result in slower 911 response times.
“The two no votes are from council members in districts that are most impacted by violent crime,” said Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association. “The message they’re saying is ‘we may support your programs but we do not want less public safety at a time of skyrocketing violent crime.’”
Donelan told KGO that “cities from coast to coast have looked at and discarded ‘defund the police,’ but here in Oakland, we seem to have doubled-down on this experiment.”
In an email to constituents, Councilmember Bas said, “75% of those 911 calls are for low-level, non-criminal incidents.” She said a new program would support “alternative crisis responders” to answer some calls related to mental health episodes. In addition, the Department of Transportation would relieve the police of handling situations such as blocked driveways, she said.
KPIX reported, “The more than $17 million that the City Council budget team would redirect to the Department of Violence Prevention doubles that department’s budget,” adding, “It would also quadruple the amount the city allocates to the department from the general fund.” According to the outlet, “That added money would employ violence interrupters and community ambassadors in flatland neighborhoods.”
More than $300,000 shifted from policing will go to the Youth Employment Program in East Oakland.
“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,” Mayor Schaff said in a statement.
Activist groups praised Councilmember Bas and Carroll Fife for “pushing back against Schaff’s blank check” for the police department.
In a statement released after Thursday’s vote, the Anti Police-Terror Project said the move gave “much-needed hope” to organizers and allies “across the city working to defund the police and invest in community.”
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