Oakland City Council may have enough votes to raise police staffing

An Oakland city councilmember thinks the council will have enough votes later this month to provide more officers to the police department.

Following a separate councilmember's decision to support a third police academy this fiscal year, that may give the council four votes on the matter, creating a tie on the council that Mayor Libby Schaaf is likely to break.

The council is scheduled to consider the matter Sept. 21, in a resolution put forth by Councilmember Sheng Thao. Thao voted against the same idea when the council met on the budget in June.

"I'm glad she's on board with it now," Councilmember Loren Taylor said in an interview Thursday.

Thao said Tuesday that stemming the loss of police officers is at least part of the reason she supports a third police academy. She has also said public safety is her number one priority.

As of Sept. 2, fewer than 700 officers were on the police force, Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said.

Thao said if the number of officers fails below 678, Oakland will no longer be able to collect Measure Z taxes, which help fund, among other things, fire safety and violence prevention programs.

"We must act now," Thao said.

She's also proposing a third academy in the second year of the two-year budget cycle.

The money for one of the two academies would come from savings Armstrong discovered in paying for the already budgeted police academies, Thao said.

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Thao is seeking City Council approval for money to pay for the second additional police academy.

The number of officers on the force is the lowest in six years, according to the Oakland Police Officers' Association union.

At the same time, shootings and homicides are way up in the city compared with recent years.

The money to pay for the two additional academies Thao is proposing would not affect funding for other critical services, she said.

City councilmembers during budget discussions earlier this year said the city's police academies are doing poorly at graduating recruits. For that reason, some councilmembers were reluctant to support more than two academies each year, which is what passed the council in June.

Under Thao's resolution, the chief would have to do better at local hiring. Thao suggested the Police Department work with Oakland's Merritt College, for example, to help prepare new police officers.

Thao said the department needs to hire people of color and women and it needs to provide childcare even for recruits.

Childcare can be a barrier to entry to work as a police officer, she said.

Thao also wants the Police Department to hire Oakland residents, who she said will be invested in Oakland.

Staffing at the Oakland Police Department has gained widespread community interest, with demands that the City Council cut the department's budget. Some demand that the department's share of the city's General Fund be cut by 50 percent and the money invested in alternative measures of public safety.

Taylor said he's in favor of alternative measures of public safety, but as he has said before, no alternatives are currently in place.

"These things take time," he said.

Also, he said that people cannot assume the alternatives will work the first time they are tried.