Oakland backtracks on cuts to police funding, votes to add officers as crimes surge

California

Police officers patrol through the Pacific Renaissance Plaza in Oakland’s Chinatown, in Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group via AP)

The Oakland City Council, a longtime leader in the Black Lives Matter movement to cut police funding, reversed course Tuesday and voted to hire more officers as it grapples with a surge in homicides and gun violence.

The proposal by Mayor Libby Schaaf to add two new police academies and unfreeze positions within the department to add 60 new officers passed with six members voting yes, one voting no and one abstention.

Council members ended up not voting on a separate proposal to offer one-time bonuses of at least $50,000 to recruit experienced officers from other cities and at least $20,000 to Oakland residents who become police cadets. They will later consider hiring incentives for experienced officers.

Schaaf applauded the vote in a statement, saying that residents “spoke up for a comprehensive approach to public safety — one that includes prevention, intervention, and addressing crime’s root causes, as well as an adequately staffed police department.”

Oakland is among several politically liberal cities reversing course on police funding amid a spike in violence, to the dismay of police critics who have said officers are ineffective at preventing crime and end up traumatizing residents, especially Black people. They have said there is no staffing shortage within the police department, and that officers should focus on the most serious crimes.

“What’s terrifying about this is as Oakland goes, so goes the country,” said Cat Brooks, co-founder of Oakland’s Anti Police-Terror Project, urging the council to vote down increased police staffing. “If we allow it to be demolished here, we are giving fuel for faux progressives and right-wing folks to destroy the movement across the country.”

Oakland has had 129 homicides this year, up from 109 last year and 78 in 2019. The deaths include a toddler who was napping in a moving vehicle when he was hit by a stray bullet on an Oakland freeway and a retired police officer who was shot while working as a security guard for a television news crew. Both killings occurred in broad daylight.

The city’s police force of sworn officers now stands at 676, dipping below a 2014 voter-approved measure that required the police department to have at least 678 sworn officers. The city of more than 400,000 people started this year with 723 sworn officers.

Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers’ Association, said officers are “leaving in droves” for other cities and urged council members to thank police rather than malign them.

Oakland has joined other cities in diverting police from some 911 calls to reduce friction between law enforcement and minority groups. A pilot program to use trained civilians to address complaints such as public intoxication and panhandling is scheduled to be launched early next year.

With Tuesday’s vote, Oakland joins other cities with robust Black Lives Matter protests that have partially restored public safety finances in response to rising homicides, an officer exodus and political pressure.

Last month the city council in Portland, Oregon, did an about-face on police funding after cutting the public safety budget in the midst of protests over the 2020 police murder of George Floyd. The city’s council unanimously passed a budget that increased the current $230 million police budget by $5.2 million.

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