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Oakland Just Redirected $18 Million Away From Police — Into Violence Prevention Programs

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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.

A few hundred people gathered at Lake Merritt for a vigil calling for peace on June 22, 2021, following the Juneteenth shooting that wounded seven people and left one man dead. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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.

Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas speaks at Lake Merritt during a vigil calling for peace on June 22, 2021, following the Juneteenth shooting that wounded seven people and left one man dead. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

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%.

APTP has been calling on investments like Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland, also known as MACRO, which the council also supports.

Under a pilot program, trained MACRO personnel will respond to non-violent, non-criminal mental and behavioral health calls instead of police.

The budget passed Thursday will invest $4 million in MACRO.

Oakland Councilmember Carol Fife speaks at Lake Merritt during a vigil calling for peace on June 22, 2021, following the Juneteenth shooting that wounded seven people and left one man dead. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Although the investments in alternatives to police are expected to reduce violence, Taylor expressed concern that they are not proven or in place.

More on Oakland police

"We are asking people to jump out of an airplane without a parachute, promising to get to them before they need it to land," Taylor said in a statement.

Before the final vote, Reid put forth an amendment to add a third police academy class in the first year of the budget and reduce the number of classes to one in the second year.

Reid expressed concern about redirecting the proposed police spending when bullets are flying into the homes of East Oaklanders who she represents.

Reid's amendment failed by a vote of 6-3, with Kalb, Taylor and Reid as the three votes in favor.

This story includes reporting from Bay City News and KQED's Raquel Maria Dillon and Julie Chang.

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