Last Thursday the Oakland City Council voted 7-2 to cut $18 million from the city’s police budget over the next two years. Making this decision in the midst of a spike in crime was such a dumb move that even progressive Mayor Libby Schaaf was against it:
“Unfortunately, it [the budget] 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’s statement read in part. “It will force our officers to work even more overtime shifts, which are expensive and unsafe for officers and residents alike.”
“I believe that until we have proven alternatives, we cannot destroy Oakland’s current public safety system at a time when we are losing so many to gun violence,” the mayor added.
As if on cue, Oakland had another violent weekend with four people killed over the span of three days. Homicides are up 90% over last year, shootings are up over 70% and carjackings are up nearly 88 percent. Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong gave a press conference Monday responding to the cuts.
“We see clearly that crime is out of control in the city of Oakland and our response was for less police resources,” Armstrong said. He continued, “That additional $17 million that was reduced from the police department’s budget will have an impact. When you hear the statements from those who say nothing will change, that is not true. Yes it will. The impact will be immediate.”
Chief Armstrong also said the cuts will mean there will be only two police academy classes per year. Those classes average 30 officers each which means about 60 new officers. But the city is currently losing an average of 5.5 officers per month or 66 per year. So the number of officers will necessarily continue to drop even apart from the other cuts.
At the end of his statement, Chief Armstrong showed photos of some of the people who’ve been murdered in the city this year. He became very emotional and had to stop talking for about 10 seconds. “I hope that we can put politics aside and put public safety first,” he said.
At present the city is authorized to have a force of 788 officers but only has 714 officers. The chief said the city would certainly dip below 700 officers by December of this year. He pointed out that Oakland has added 38,000 new residents since 2013 but has not added a single additional police officer.
Much of the money that was cut from the police budget will instead go to the Office of Violence Prevention which takes a public health approach to stopping violence. The office was launched in 2017 and basically helps coordinate various non-profit violence prevention activities. However, the cuts in the police budget begin on July 1 while the staffing up of the violence prevention office probably will continue into next year. So even if you think the shift in funds makes sense, the question is what happens in the interim.
Finally, this last part of the story is something that you wouldn’t believe if you saw it in a movie. Just three hours after Chief Armstrong held his press conference about the budget cuts and rising crime, the Chief of the Office of Violence Prevention (the person receiving most of those funds) was giving an interview to a local news station outside City Hall. In the midst of that interview, two armed robbers walked up and tried to steal the station’s news camera.
Oakland police reported that the two suspects approached the newscasters at 3:09 p.m. and tried to steal a camera. After a scuffle, a security officer pulled out a gun and ordered the suspects to leave. They fled without the camera. No injuries were reported…
Cespedes told The Chronicle he was at the scene of an attempted robbery on Monday, and a police watch commander confirmed he was being interviewed when the crime occurred.
“Our colleagues were conducting an interview at Oakland City Hall when they were approached by two armed individuals,” Liza Catalan, a spokesperson for NBC Bay Area, said. “Thankfully our colleagues are safe and unharmed.”
It’s not clear from the story whether the armed security guard who stopped the robbery was working for the city or working for the news channel. Either way, it really says something about what type of violence prevention is needed when the thing that ultimately stopped the robbery wasn’t a program but a security guard with a gun.
Here’s a bit of Chief Armstrong’s statement.
WATCH THIS: Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong speaks after the city council voted cut millions away from his department’s budget amid crime surge. pic.twitter.com/2y4R78CU5Y
— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) June 28, 2021