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Oakland Police Chief Speaks Out After City Council Defunds Police By $18.4 Million

Oakland, CA – The Oakland City Council has voted to defund the city’s police force by an additional $18.4 million as homicide rates continued to skyrocket.

The council voted 7-2 in favor of the massive budget cut last week, which was expected to result in the loss of as many as 50 sworn officer positions, OAN reported.

The cuts will take place over the next two years.

A total of 714 officers are currently serving the OPD, according to KGO.

In 2014, voters approved Measure Z, which required the city to employ at least 678 officers.

The council’s vote will likely force the agency’s numbers to drop below that requirement, KGO reported.

Oakland’s homicide rate surged more than 314 percent after the city voted to defund the police previously, according to OAN.

Crime has continued to spiral out of control ever since, Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said.

“I’m challenged by the decisions that were made on Thursday around the budget for the city of Oakland, particularly for the Oakland Police Department,” Chief Armstrong told reporters on Monday.

“Today, we find ourselves in a crisis… It now has us currently at 65 homicides for the year. That’s a 90 percent increase compared to last year,” he said. “Our shootings are up over 70 percent this year. Our robberies are up 11 percent this year… Our carjackings are up nearly 88 percent.”

“So, we see clearly that crime is out of control in the city of Oakland, and our response was for less police resources,” Chief Armstrong continued.

He also took issue with a “city leader’s” comment about the surging crime rate being “a bump in the road – a speed bump – [and] that we would go through a period would there would be speed bumps and there would be challenges and things might not go right,” he said.

“Well for me, those ‘speed bumps’ are 65 lives so far this year,” the chief told reporters. “Whether its shootings, robberies, carjackings, sexual assaults, all of these crimes are not speed bumps. These are people.”

Chief Armstrong said the focus of so many city meetings is about money and cost and budgets.

“I don’t know what the cost of a life is,” he said. “But I know not having resources makes our city less safe. It concerns me that we would ever consider that to be ‘a bump in the road.’”

Chief Armstrong took a moment to compose himself prior to telling reporters about a recent experience he had out on the streets that exemplified how city leaders are tying officers’ hands.

“Saturday night, I went out to a scene of a young man that lost his life. A lady yelled out the window, ‘Do something about it!’” he said. “Without the resources, it makes it challenging to make Oakland safe.”

Victims and their families are left to pick up the pieces.

“When the yellow tape is gone and when the streets are cleaned up, there is still hurt and pain and tragedy in our community,” Chief Armstrong said. “I hope that we can put politics aside and put public safety first. Put people’s lives first before political agendas.”

The chief added that he is not a politician and that his only goals are to protect the city and to keep people safe.

“That’s what I’m here for,” he said.

Meanwhile, Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas praised the council’s successful police defunding effort.

“I think yesterday was very historic,” Fortunato Bas told KGO. “We’ll be standing up a program called MACRO for alternative crisis responders, to handle mental health issues. We will be having our department of transportation handle issues that police typically handle, blocked driveways, auto tows.”

The MACRO pilot project will use unarmed fire department civilian employees to respond to 911 calls deemed to be nonviolent, The Oaklandside reported.

The Department of Violence Prevention (DVP), which consists of civilian life coaches and “violence interrupters,” will see a 50 percent budget increase under the city council’s new plan, boosting its funding by another $52 million.

“After the brutal killing of George Floyd, after five years and more of organizing among activists for police accountability, for transformative justice, Oakland went through a process to reimagine safety,” Fortunato Bas touted to The Oaklandside. “And on this day, on June 24, we actually are doing something about it. We’re putting our money where our mouth is.”

Oakland Councilman Noel Gallo concurred, and claimed pulling funding from the OPD is the best way to help the city’s residents.

“For me it’s more about where do I appropriate the dollars I have from the taxpayer, to the community,” Gallo told KGO. “It’s not the police officer.”

The reallocated funds will also be used for arts programs and various cultural events, according to The Oaklandside.

“Until we invest in the communities that have been disenfranchised from day one, the marginalized groups, the black folks, the brown folks, the Asian folks, poor people, until we invest in them, then the trauma that these communities have experienced will be replicated,” Councilmember Carroll Fife declared.

Fortunato Bas said 2021 is only a transitional year, and that there will likely be further OPD defunding in the future, KGO reported.

“Because police have the largest share, there could be more redistribution,” she said.

In fact, many members of the council wanted to cut the OPD budget by 50 percent, which would have amounted to $150 million, The Oaklandside reported.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf commended the city council for making “bold investments to reimagine public safety through violence prevention and non-police strategies,” but said the budget cut will “destroy” the city’s current public safety program, according to The Oaklandside.

“Unfortunately, it also cuts 50 police officers who respond to Oaklanders’ 911 calls and enforce traffic safety. 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 in a press release, according to The Oaklandside. “It will force our officers to work even more overtime shifts, which are expensive and unsafe for officers and residents alike.”

The mayor said that the city needs “proven alternatives” to law enforcement and that it cannot simply “destroy Oakland’s current public safety system at a time when we are losing so many to gun violence,” KPIX reported.

Oakland Councilman Loren Taylor argued that some members of the council are laser-focused on defunding the police, regardless of the fact that there are not effective replacements to ensure community safety.

“The whole problem is the focus on defunding,” Taylor told KGO. “My residents in East Oakland overwhelmingly say let’s make sure we have a solid baseline of support until these alternatives are put in place in a way we can depend on.”

Oakland Police Officer Association (OPOA) President Barry Donelan said the massive budget cut “makes no sense” to him.

“Cities across the country have looked at and discarded defund the police,” Donelan told KGO. “But here in Oakland, we seemed to have doubled down on this experiment.”

He said he expects the number of 911 calls that go unanswered will increase as a result of the city council’s decision.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin

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