Oakland votes on contested budget

Oakland city council members redirected $18 million from proposed police spending to alternative methods of violence prevention when the council passed a $3.8 billion budget Thursday evening.

The vote occurred at about 5:30pm, following hours of public comment and discussion at a virtual meeting.

The cuts to police spending were made from Mayor Libby Schaaf’s proposed budget, which would have added two police academy classes to the usual four, over the two-year budget cycle.

“The budget passed today by the Oakland City Council makes bold investments to reimagine public safety through violence prevention and non-police strategies that I strongly support,” Schaaf said in a statement. “Unfortunately, it also cuts 50 police officers who respond to Oaklanders’ 911 calls and enforce traffic safety.”

Six council members voted in favor of the budget, while Councilmembers Loren Taylor and Treva Reid opposed it because of concerns over an equitable distribution of city funds. Both council members represent East Oakland.

Council President Nikki Fortuna Bas and Council members Carrol Fife, Dan Kalb and Noel Gallow amended the mayor’s budget proposal before it passed.

The changes come amid a historic increase in violence in the city, with at least 61 homicides so far this year, up about 90% from a year ago, Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said Wednesday.

Armstrong met Wednesday with President Joe Biden, who authorized federal funds for police that Oakland will pursue, Armstrong and the mayor said.

The violence was palpable last weekend, when gunfire killed one and wounded at least six others in a shooting near Lake Merritt.

But Armstrong reportedly said no number of officers at the lake would have prevented the tragedy, and some council members used that statement to bolster their argument for less spending on police.

Many Oakland residents have demanded less spending since the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, calling on city leaders to cut the Police Department’s budget by 50% and invest that money in alternatives to police.

One such investment that the council supports is Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland, also known as MACRO.

Under a pilot program, trained MACRO personnel will respond to non-violent, non-criminal mental and behavioral health calls, instead of police.

The budget that passed Thursday will invest $4 million in MACRO.

Although the investments in alternatives to police are expected to reduce violence, Taylor expressed concern that they are neither proven, nor in place.

“We are asking people to jump out of an airplane without a parachute, promising to get to them before they need it to land,” Taylor said in a statement.

Before the final vote, Reid put forth an amendment to add a third police academy class in the first year of the budget, and to reduce the number of classes to one in the second year.

Reid expressed concern about redirecting the proposed police spending when bullets are flying into the homes of East Oaklanders who she represents.

The amendment failed by a vote of 6–3, with Kalb, Taylor and Reid voting in favor.

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