The Oakland Police Department Administrative Building in Downtown Oakland. Credit: Pete Rosos

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Two separate proposals to cut millions from the Oakland Police Department budget and redirect money to other city services were rejected by the Oakland City Council last night.

Mayor Libby Schaaf made a rare tiebreaking vote to reject a plan advanced by councilmembers Dan Kalb and Sheng Thao that would have cut an additional $2.75 million from the police department and used the money to pay for non-police violence reduction programs, among other things. 

Councilmembers Larry Reid, Noel Gallo, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, and Loren Taylor joined the mayor in opposition. Schaaf, whose home was vandalized the night before by unknown people who painted anti-police messages on her residence, explained why she was rejecting Kalb and Thao’s plan before voting. 

“As you’ve heard from our finance director and our chief of police, any further cuts, real cuts to the police department, will require a significant reduction to our widely recognized inadequate 911 response, elimination of current police services, as well as further strain on what is well documented as an understaffed police force having the lowest officer-per-crimes staffing of any department in America,” she said.

An alternative proposal, a larger cut of $11.3 million to the police budget advanced by councilmembers Nikki Fortunato Bas and Rebecca Kaplan, was also voted down. Reid, Gallo, Gibson McElhaney, and Taylor voted no, while Kalb and Thao abstained.

The votes bring an end to efforts by Kaplan, Bas, Kalb, and Thao to reopen the budget process and trim police spending in favor of other services, a goal that was elevated by local and national protests following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May. 

The council had voted last month to reduce police spending by $12 million, passing a budget modification proposed by councilmembers Reid, Gallo, Gibson McElhaney, and Taylor, who refer to themselves as the Equity Caucus. Council president Kaplan also voted to pass that version of the budget.

Kalb, Thao, and Bas wanted to make further changes to the budget for several reasons. Kalb and Thao said they felt the June vote was rushed and they were not given a chance to present their ideas.

Protesters who were upset by the council’s June budget vote and wanted to see larger cuts to police spending had also organized several rallies outside the homes of councilmembers in late June and early July to demand another round of budget revisions.

Bas called the late-June budget vote a “slap in the face to thousands of Oaklanders” who have been asking for greater reductions in police spending, but members of the Equity Caucus defended it as a prudent shift of resources. The Equity Caucus budget mainly reduced police spending by shifting civilian jobs out of the police department and pushing costly items, such as a $2.5 million police academy, into the future. 

Bas and Kaplan’s plan

The plan proposed by councilmembers Bas and Kaplan, which was rejected last night, included multiple large cuts to the Oakland police budget, starting with a $2.5 million reduction that would have been achieved by converting an OPD police academy into a “lateral” academy, essentially recruiting new officers who graduated from other department’s training programs. Other proposed cuts included:

  • $1.65 million by freezing vacant police officer positions
  • $1 million by putting a moratorium on arrests for pedestrian and bicycle traffic violations
  • $3 million in cuts to police overtime for supervising special events like parades and block parties
  • $2 million by removing police officers deployed as security around City Hall
  • $1.5 million by reducing police overtime spent responding to emergency calls related to mental health crises
  • $300,000 by eliminating OPD’s media relations unit and moving it to the City Administrator’s Office

Bas said these reductions would free up millions to “deepen investments” in non-police services. Those services would have included creating a civilian helpline as an alternative to 911, hiring civilian ambassadors to keep neighborhoods safe and mediate conflicts, using civilian security around City Hall, and putting an added $1.3 million into youth violence prevention programs.

City Administrator Ed Reiskin and interim Police Chief Susan Manheimer called the proposal from Bas and Kaplan a nonstarter. According to Reiskin, many of the proposed spending reductions wouldn’t actually lead to $11 million in savings. 

“Most of the proposed expenditures, particularly those Bas and Kaplan spoke to, and which also appear in Thao and Kalb’s proposal, are great investments we’d love to be able to make as a city,” Budget Director Adam Benson, who works under Reiskin, wrote in a memo opposing Bas and Kaplan’s plan. But Benson went on to say that many of the proposed police department cuts wouldn’t actually lead to savings that could be directed to other departments.

For example, Benson noted that the $3 million cut to police overtime for supervising special events wouldn’t create $3 million to be spent elsewhere because these overtime costs ultimately don’t come out of Oakland’s general fund. Instead, the police are reimbursed for their overtime work by event promoters.

Regarding Bas and Kaplan’s proposal to freeze vacant police officer positions, city staff said during last night’s meeting that this would reduce money the department uses to pay overtime to ensure patrol shifts are adequately staffed and that special units such as foot patrol, robbery suppression, youth and school services, unsheltered unit, mental health unit, traffic enforcement, and victims services have the personnel they need. 

City staff asked Bas, Kaplan, and the rest of the council to specify which police units would be reduced if cuts were made.

Bas and Kaplan’s plan also faced an uphill battle after Mayor Schaaf sent an email blast earlier in the day encouraging constituents to oppose it.

“Councilmembers Kaplan and Bas are proposing a dangerous and irresponsible amendment to that already-approved budget,” Schaaf wrote. “Their proposal would further impair emergency response capabilities, as well as make illusory budget cuts that could throw Oakland into even greater fiscal vulnerability.”

Kalb and Thao’s Plan

Councilmembers Kalb and Thao sought to create $500,000 in savings by reducing OPD’s budget for special events and by moving this function out of OPD and into the city administrator’s office. Their plan also included the following cuts:

  • A $450,000 reduction in OPD’s operations and maintenance budget, which includes purchases of office supplies, vehicle rentals, and other items
  • $1.15 million reduced by freezing eight vacant police officer positions.
  • $400,000 in cuts to OPD by having civilians in the city Department of Transportation take over the responsibility of dealing with abandoned automobiles
  • $250,000 by converting an OPD public information officer job into a civilian position

With the $2.7 million they estimated this would free up, Kalb and Thao recommended splitting the funds between the Department of Violence Prevention for youth services, the city’s new mental-health response pilot program known as MACRO, and a cleaning and sanitation fund for homeless camps, among other things.

“It’s modest,” Kalb said during the meeting about these proposed cuts to OPD and where these funds would be redirected. “I believe this is showing the public and showing ourselves that in this first year we’re taking some steps, we’re taking some incremental steps.”

Reimagining public safety

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Although further reductions in police spending were voted down last night along with several proposals to invest in non-police services, the City Council is moving forward with a task force that has the mission of reimagining public safety in Oakland. Part of the task force’s job will be to examine how the city could trim 50% from its police budget and invest this roughly $150 million into other services like housing, jobs, and mental health support.

Although they were on opposing sides during last night’s budget debate, councilmembers Bas and Taylor are partnering on creating the task force.

“This task force must be able to listen, to hear, to create and hold space for the most impacted communities who have experienced violence, including police violence,” said Bas.

Taylor said the task force, made up of 15 members mostly appointed by the council, will rapidly reimagine and help reconstruct the entire public safety system in Oakland with a goal of incorporating its findings into the city’s upcoming 2021-2023 budget. The council is currently refining the task force idea and plans to vote on its creation at its July 28 meeting. Taylor said the public should contact his office and Bas’ staff if they have questions or want to give feedback.

“We want to make sure we have thorough engagement, and thorough contributions,” said Taylor.

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Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham worked with The Appeal, where he was an investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian, and was an enterprise reporter for the East Bay Express. BondGraham's work has also appeared with KQED, ProPublica and other leading national and local outlets. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017.