The Oakland City Council recently voted to divert $18 million dollars away its police budget.
The council recently passed the new two-year, $3.8 billion dollar budget, that included a reallocation of $18 million away from the police department towards other violence prevention programs amidst a surge in crime throughout the city this year.
Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong criticized the move at a press conference as one that would leave the city less safe.
“On July 1, is the city going to be safer than it is today?” he asked before the ruling went into effect.
“It’s easy to sit in a room and have a discussion as to what public safety looks like,” Armstrong continued. “It looks much different when you’re out in the community and meeting with the families. It’s much different when you hear families demand a stronger police response to shootings. It’s easier when you don’t talk to senior citizens and hear them tell you that they can’t sleep at night, because of all the shootings.”
According to East Bay Times, Mayor Libby Shaaf’s proposed budget included an increase of $18 million dollars in police spending. However, council president Nikki Fortunato Bas swayed the majority of her council colleagues to amend the proposed budget and take the increased spending off the table. Armstrong said he supported the mayor’s plan.
The current plan leaves the police department’s share of the budget at 18 percent instead of the usual 20 percent.
Oakland councilman Dan Kalb (District 1-North Oakland) defended the decision as a response to the pressing need to fund city violence-prevention programs.
“We decided this year that we’re finally going to say yes to that, we’re finally going to say we are going to start the process, start the allocations to be serious about violence prevention and intervention,” Kalb said.
Behind the political struggle is a city dealing with a real crime problem. Chief Armstrong said there has been a surge in gun violence in the city. Of the 406 illicit guns recovered so far, 108 were involved in violent felonies, 269 in felonies, and 13 in homicides.
So far this year, the city has recorded 65 homicides, nearly double the amount at the same time last year.
Due to the budget cuts, Oakland police will lose two police academies and some of their own violence prevention programs. Since the department is already struggling with officer vacancies, Armstrong suggested the budget may further impact response times.
“We already have a tough time responding to all of the calls that we get, this will make it tougher,” said Chief Armstrong.
“I’d hoped when I made this very same presentation that it would resonate,” he continued. “When we have discussions about the impact of decisions that they’d be taken seriously, but they weren’t. What we’ve seen happen is not OK, and we’re not a safer city as the result of it.”
Kalb responded, “We’re choosing to make serious investments in violence prevention and intervention and alternative responses. […] This is the decision that the council made, and now our job together is to implement it.”