Oakland diverts $18M from police to violence-prevention programs

The Oakland City Council voted Thursday to divert $18.4 million of what the mayor proposed spending on the police department to double the funding for community violence-prevention programs.

The council approved amendments to the city's budget that were presented by Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, who has long argued for decreasing the police budget.

The bulk of that money, $17.4 million, will now go to double the Department of Violence Prevention, which will be used to create a new Mobile Crisis Response, or MACRO, to respond to 911 calls for mental and behavioral health crises in East and West Oakland. 

The total is 2% of the total police budget, and they are not cuts, perse. There was a surplus in the budget this year and it is $18 million less than what the mayor wanted to spend.

Oakland Mayor Schaaf proposed a two-year budget that would have increased funding for the Oakland Police Department by spending $693 million total. The mayor’s plan would have paid for two additional police recruit academies, bringing the total to six. Now, those two academies won't be funded.

The cuts were still a fraction of the 50% Oakland’s council said last summer it planned to slash from police.

In a statement, Schaaf said she supported violence prevention efforts and "non-police strategies" but noted that the budget cuts 50 police officers.

"It also cuts much-needed future academies, which will significantly reduce police staffing and delay response to Oaklanders in their time of crisis," Schaaf said. "It will force our officers to work even more overtime shifts, which are expensive and unsafe for officers and residents alike."

After the vote, Councilmember Bas hosted a news conference that was celebratory in tone. 

She responded to the mayor and said she wants to work with police. 

"We are going to fix this system," she said. Bas noted the amount of police would be the same for the first year the budget is implemented. "It’s the same amount of service during the transition period."

 She said data shows many 911 calls are non-criminal calls.

As the council discussed the issue, a group of local community leaders and members of the clergy implored Alameda County officials to declare gun violence a public-health emergency and to similarly fund prevention initiatives. 

"State of emergency! State of emergency!" the group chanted at Lake Merritt, where just days earlier, a man was killed and seven other victims were hurt during a shooting involving San Francisco gang members.

"The trauma, the pain and the scourge of violence that is interpersonal in nature but is fueled by the trauma of our people," said Pastor Michael McBride of the Way Christian Center in Berkeley and an Oakland resident.

Dr. Noha Aboelata of Roots Community Health Center said, "We have children, we have girls being gunned down in these streets. The frequency of shootings and the loss of life is getting to the point where we're having to become desensitized just to cope."

As they spoke, the Oakland City Council held a special virtual meeting to discuss amendments to the proposed budget involving the Police Department.

Bas supported shifting $18 million away from the police and use it for violence-prevention programs. It also funds housing, parks, arts and culture. 

She and others on the council want to have civilian mobile response teams, not police officers, handle non-violent mental-health calls.

At the evening news conference, Bas said it's not responsible to expect that police have such unrealistic jobs, touching on the mental health calls they have had to deal with. 

But Schaaf says she wants to keep police staffing from dipping below the current 717 officers. She says Bas' proposal would "decimate" 911 response.

The council was at odds over how many police academies should be funded over the next two years.

In a statement, the Anti Police-Terror Project lauded the budget passed by the council, saying it "shows Oakland's commitment as a progressive city to support policies that actually keep us safe."

The group lauded Bas and Councilmember Carroll Fife for "pushing back against Schaaf's blank check for OPD."

"We are operating in fear. We have been doing that for many, many years," Fife said at the news conference. She added that it’s important to invest in marginalized communities that are victimized and impacted by city violence the most.

Back at Lake Merritt, community organizers say Alameda County should spend any reserve funds on intervention programs.

"The language that people use a lot of times for those reserves is, it's a rainy day fund. Well, it's raining. It's storms," said Greg Hodge of the African American Response Circle. "It's a tornado, it's a typhoon, hurricane. Whatever you want to say about it, our community needs those resources now."

Late Thursday, the Oakland Police Officer's Association issued the following statement: "Despite being defunded, Oakland's finest continue to serve our city." 

KTVU reached out to OPD on this development but has yet to receive a comment. 

KTVU's Andre Torrez and Azenith Smith contributed to this story.