Oakland rolls out volunteer safety program in Chinatown as fallout from police budget deepens

Volunteers picked up litter and escorted seniors in Oakland's Chinatown Monday.

"We walk to Chinatown with them, back and forth to make sure our seniors are safe. Not scared of going out," said Sky Liang, a community volunteer.

For Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, this is one of a series of programs she says promotes public safety without involving the police.

"We say hello to people. Let them know we are here," she said.

Bas is publicizing the program as fallout continues from a city council vote last month that reduced Mayor Libby Schaaf's proposed police budget by $18 million.

That money would be redirected to fund alternative violence prevention programs.

The police department did receive a 6% increase over the previous budget, but many people prefer to see the $18 million go to the police at a time when violent crime has gone up significantly.

"It isn't sustainable to have police on every block. So we have to be really wise in how we spend our policing budget to focus on serious and violent crime. And spread our general-purpose fund money on more violence prevention," Bas said.

But as a glaring example of how thorny the police budgeting issue is, was the absence of Oakland's Chinatown Chamber of Commerce from the program.

The organization is often a big part of any economic and safety programs in the neighborhood. But not this time.

"We're really surprised that we were not asked," said chamber president Carl Chan.

He believes the reason has to do with its support of further increases to the police budget, due in part to increases in violence recently against Asians and Pacific Islanders there.

"When the announcement came about the cuts of the police budget, almost immediately we see a drop in people and customers coming to Chinatown. A major effect right away," Chan said.