Last Thursday, council members voted 6-2 to remove $18.5 million from a proposed increase to the Oakland Police Department’s budget. The law enforcement body will have $674 million to spend, compared to $665 million the previous year, though the increase is markedly less than the proposed $27 million spearheaded by Mayor Libby Schaaf, a Democrat. Last year’s police funding accounted for 20% of the city’s budget, while this year’s makes up 18%.
“I’m challenged by the decisions that were made on Thursday around the budget for the city of Oakland, particularly for the Oakland Police Department,” Chief LeRonne Armstrong said in a news conference.
“We see clearly that crime is out of control in the city of Oakland, and our response was for less police resources … when City Council members — the majority of them have voted to defund this Police Department. That additional $17 million will have an impact,” he added.
Oakland has seen 65 reported homicides so far in 2021, equating to a 90% increase when compared to numbers from 2020, Armstrong said. Shootings have risen 70%, carjackings are up 88%, and the city has been hit with 1,300 robberies so far in 2021, equating to an 11% increase.
The law enforcement boss said the cuts will slow crime response times, restrict him from hiring violence prevention officers, and reduce the number of policemen in the department. He insisted the force will be bringing on 60 officers over the next few months, though he will be losing 65 due to attrition. The changes may result in “mandatory overtime.”
“The impact will be immediate with slower response times for emergency calls for service,” the chief said.
“We already have a tough time responding to the high number of calls that we get. This will make it tougher, having less officers in the field, particularly for marginalized communities,” he added.
Thursday’s cuts are a far cry from the 50% reduction some council members were pushing, which would divert upwards of $150 million from the budget. City leaders referred to the new funding allocation as “historic,” as the reductions will be used to employ mental health workers for certain calls and staff transportation workers for some traffic violations.
“I think yesterday was very historic,” councilwoman Nikki Fortunato Bas said at the time of the vote. “We’ll be standing up a program called MACRO for alternative crisis responders to handle mental health issues. We will be having our department of transportation handle issues that police typically handle: blocked driveways, auto tows.”
Armstrong insisted otherwise and said the city’s actions pertaining to law enforcement need to be apolitical.
“Saturday night, I went out to a scene of a young man who lost his life, and a lady yelled out the window, ‘Do something about it.’ Without the resources, it makes it challenging to make Oakland safe, and more families find themselves dealing with trauma,” the chief said.
“I hope that we could politics aside and put public safety first. Put people’s lives first before political agendas,” he added.