Oakland City Council votes to approve additional police academy

As the police reform debate and a rising homicide rate have both loomed large in Oakland, the city council on Tuesday voted 6-2 to add a fifth police training academy to the four already planned and consider adding a sixth academy next year.

Councilmembers Nikki Fortunato Bas and Carroll Fife voted no on Council President Pro Tem's Sheng Thao's resolution to add more academies. Both have questioned whether spending more money on police academies would solve the rise in gun violence that has plagued the city over the last 18 months and they have advocated for money to be spent on crime prevention, not more police, instead. 

There have been 100 homicides in Oakland this year, compared to 70 last year at the same time. Each academy costs about $3 million to $4 million. 

Thao said she understands both sides of the issue. 

But ultimately, she said she wants to reform the system from within, to hire and train the "right" kind of officers, those who represent the city and have compassion and emotional intelligence. 

"As a city councilmember, mother, victim of a home burglary, and survivor of domestic violence, I know, personally, just how important effective policing and public safety is in Oakland," Thao said. "At the same time, a history of systemic racism in this country has meant that law enforcement agencies have treated some fairly and with respect, but others with prejudice and cruelty."

Thao’s resolution directs the city administrator to "enhance" efforts to recruit people into the police academies who have diverse backgrounds and from local community colleges. The resolution also directs the city administration to look at the costs of providing childcare to police trainees in the academy.

In June, the council had rejected additional academies.

In a press release issued after the vote, Councilmember Loren Taylor said his constituents in District 6, which includes East Oakland neighborhoods, are disproportionately impacted by gun violence, armed robberies and sideshows. 

"The circumstances of the residents I represent in East Oakland have not changed since the Council rejected our call for a comprehensive public safety response in June and no new information has been presented that was not previously available. From the beginning, I have been consistent in my advocacy for investments throughout the public safety ecosystem, which includes both violence prevention and response" said Taylor. 

Taylor said he was happy to have the near full support of the council. His press release mentions the initiative had support from East Oakland residents. 

The numbers are dwindling with less than 700 officers on the force as of the beginning of the month. The numbers have not been that low in seven years. Officers are leaving the department on average of 10 a month. 

During public comment regarding the police academies, opponents argued more cops does not equate to less crime. Some said funding should be going towards community resources and that the focus should be on prevention, not more police. 

"We need these academies to fill that gap. We need more additional officers in the ranks," Chief LeRonne Armstrong has said. 

Some city leaders said if the officer count dips below 678, they risk losing Measure Z funding, tied to violence prevention. 

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued a message to residents to ask their councilmember to support more police through the academies. 

"We can do both: We can re-imagine public safety and we can provide a basic level of public safety for our residents," Schaaf said. 

The Oakland City Council declared the recent violence a public health crisis. That makes Oakland eligible for additional mental-health funding. 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of additional police academies authorized by the Oakland City Council. The council approved one, not two academies in a vote on Tuesday.