Odessa Helfrich-Batt holds a sign that says, "Defund OPD" during a Martin Luther King Day car caravan at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park near the Port of Oakland on Jan. 18, 2021. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)
Oakland city councilmembers redirected $18 million proposed for police spending from the mayor's budget to alternative methods of violence prevention when the council passed a $3.8 billion budget Thursday evening.
The vote came at about 5:30 p.m. following hours of public comment and discussion at a virtual meeting.
The cuts to police spending were made from Mayor Libby Schaaf's proposed budget for fiscal years 2021-2023 released in May, which would have added two police academy classes to the usual four over the two-year budget cycle.
The mayor's budget proposal was then amended by Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas and Councilmembers Carroll Fife, Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo. The amendment was what passed on Thursday.
"The budget passed today by the Oakland City Council makes bold investments to reimagine public safety through violence prevention and non-police strategies that I strongly support," Schaaf said in a statement.
"Unfortunately, it also cuts 50 police officers who respond to Oaklanders' 911 calls and enforce traffic safety," Schaaf said.
Six councilmembers voted in favor of the new budget, while Councilmembers Loren Taylor and Treva Reid opposed it because of concerns over an equitable distribution of city funds.
Both Taylor and Reid represent East Oakland.
The changes come amid a historic increase in violence in the city, with at least 61 homicides so far this year — nearly all by firearms — up about 90% from a year ago, Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said Wednesday.
The violence was palpable last weekend when gunfire killed one and wounded at least six others in a shooting near Lake Merritt.
But Armstrong reportedly said no number of officers at the lake would have prevented the tragedy and some councilmembers used that statement to bolster their argument for less spending on police.
Many Oakland residents have been demanding less spending since the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, calling on city leaders to cut the Police Department's budget by 50% and invest that money in alternatives to police.
One such group was the Anti Police-Terror Project. James Burch, policy director for the group, said the vote marked a tremendous victory after a six-year campaign. “And it speaks to how difficult it has been for us to gain traction and demand common sense out of the city council,” he said.
But Burch highlighted that while police won't be seeing that $18 million, it's "a drop in the bucket."
"We're talking about a police budget that is well over $300 million every year consistently and continues to increase — even this year. And so it's important that we maintain that perspective," he said.
The previous two-year budget spent $665 million for police and constituted 19.6% of the city budget. The mayor's proposed budget had slightly increased the total dollars for police to $692 million but decreased the percentage police use from the city budget to 17.9%.