Policing to dominate Oakland politics, funding

Policing in the city of Oakland will be a big topic of conversation at Oakland’s City Council meeting Tuesday afternoon.

“Today, Oakland will take a next step in terms of advancing what we believe is a just and moral society,” said Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney who will ask her colleagues to adopt a resolution to support SB3912.

The bill, introduced by Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, would hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct, improve transparency through data collection and reform police training and policies.

“You know your local policing agency is one of eight or 10 agencies that have the authority to police your population so without federal changes we don’t expect there will be enduring shifts in the culture of American policing,” said McElhaney.

Other agenda items include a resolution to stop using tear gas at protests during the pandemic and a zero-tolerance policy for racism within city offices and the police department.

In a statement, Councilmember Loren Taylor said, “We can’t take for granted that everyone in Oakland or the Bay Area shares our values for diversity and our commitment to equal treatment of all races when they are behind closed doors or with the anonymity of social media.  This resolution that establishes a zero-tolerance policy for racist behaviors and actions by OPD and all City employees emphasizes that Oakland is a safe and non-discriminatory workplace, it is important that we make a strong statement that these principles apply to all Oakland employees and the City of Oakland will not ignore serious incidents or allegations for racist behavior by OPD or any city employee.”

Budget-related items on the agenda include contracts for police helicopter maintenance and Shotspotter service coverage, that could cost millions of dollars. The meeting comes after another day of calls to defund the Oakland Police Department

Oakland's interim police chief Susan Manheimer said the department has already gone through several budget cuts and they don’t have enough resources on the streets as is, “We have over 2000 calls for service per day, 500 are 911 calls. Where is it that we would be able to cut because that is our basic public safety response.”

The city's finance director said 19 to 20% of Oakland's budget goes towards the police department and the department takes up 40% of the city's general funds.

Manheimer said the department asks for only what’s necessary to protect officers and the public.

Meanwhile, Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas proposed reallocating at least $25 million from the police budget to cover things like mental health services, housing and youth programs.

While McElhaney said they need to refund communities, she said she won’t make a knee jerk decision when it comes to this issue, “We have to really look top to bottom through the state’s budget to take a look at how we’re investing in policing overall, how we are investing in our military. Are we really investing in our infrastructure and all of the things our government should be doing for us?”