Oakland City Council may consider new ideas for public safety at special meeting

Members of the Oakland City Council Public Safety Committee voted Tuesday to seek the full council's input on the recommendations of Reimagining Public Safety Taskforce rather than approving them. 

Committee members made their decision late Tuesday afternoon and hope to have the full council provide input at a special meeting May 4. That meeting has not been scheduled officially. 

At least a dozen community members spoke in favor of the recommendations and/or those favored by the Anti Police-Terror Project and Defund Police Coalition. Those recommendations may reduce the Police Department's budget. Police, on the other hand, wonder why the City Council is talking about reducing the police budget given that the city has seen more than three times the number of homicides this year compared with last year.   

"Rather than acknowledging the bloodshed on our streets, this council seeks to defund the police despite a staggering increase in violent crime," Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers' Association, said in a statement. "This is insane."

Through the first 100 days of the new year, 41 people have been killed in homicides, up from 13 a year ago at this time. Seven homicides were recorded last week. 

Donelan said the department's staffing is at a five-year low at 711 sworn staff members. San Francisco has 2,208 sworn personnel.

But advocates for a reduced police budget say the money can be used for more equitable safety measures, among other things. 

One recommendation of the taskforce is to move some traffic enforcement from the Police Department to the Oakland Department of Transportation. Researchers with The Stanford Open Policing Project found "significant racial disparities in policing" when they looked at traffic stops. 

Another recommendation involves making a significant investment in a mental health crisis response program that does not involve police. Called Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland, the program would deploy civilian responders to mental health calls. 

The taskforce put together more than 150 recommendations, adopted 88 and prioritized nearly 50. Seventeen were identified as urgent.

The taskforce is aiming to shift city resources from enforcement and punishment to prevention and wellness. And it wants to do that with money in the 2021-23 budget.

"That is really the opportunity we have in front of us," said City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, who is co-chairing the taskforce with Councilmember Loren Taylor. 

Other taskforce recommendations included capping Police Department overtime, funding gender-based violence prevention and eliminating the Police Department's bearcat and mounted horse unit.

Advocates for a reduced police budget want a 50 percent reduction.