Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Councilmembers Loren Taylor and Treva Reid announced Monday that they intend to introduce legislation to boost police staffing in response to the rising number of shootings and homicides.

They pointed directly to the killing of a TV news crew security guard downtown last week, and a fatal shooting during an auto burglary over the weekend, as examples of the rising crime they hope more police will prevent. Reid and Taylor, who represent districts 6 and 7 in East Oakland, also said their parts of the city are especially hard hit with gun violence.

“In East Oakland we have demanded more, not less resources,” said Reid.

While the mayor and councilmembers didn’t go into details, Schaaf said their proposal—which they plan to make public on Friday—would reverse some of the decisions made by the City Council to reimagine public safety that resulted in a smaller overall increase to the Oakland Police Department’s budget.

OPD’s budget increased by about $38 million under the spending plan approved by the council in June for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 fiscal years. Although police spending went up, it was by a smaller amount than Schaaf’s proposed budget called for, and the council used the money saved to fund non-police violence prevention and emergency response programs.

The council cancelled two of the six police academies the mayor wanted. Police academies are used to train and hire new police officers. But in September, the City Council reversed course part way when it approved District 4 Councilmember Sheng Thao’s plan to add a fifth police academy. Thao had also supported adding a sixth academy next year, but wanted the city administration to first provide information on what it would cost.

Schaaf said today that at least one more police academy is needed because of higher “attrition rates,” a term used to describe the pace at which police officers leave the department because they quit, retire, or for other reasons. According to the city, OPD currently has 677 officers, a level that Schaaf said is far below what’s actually needed to respond to 911 calls and provide other services. It’s also just below the 678 officer threshold required under Measure Z, a voter-approved parcel tax that raises millions for police and violence prevention programs. Under Measure Z, if the city fails to budget for 678 officers, it’s prohibited from collecting the tax.

The City Council has been waiting for the City Administrator’s Office to present a hiring plan report to keep the number of officers above the Measure Z threshold. The report was scheduled to be heard at a Nov. 9 meeting, but city staff requested more time to complete it. It is now on the Dec. 7 council agenda.

While the majority of council approved the extra police academy Thao proposed, some members still have questions about what OPD is doing to better retain and recruit officers, as well as improve academy graduation rates. 

Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas said she wants to know how the police department is deploying its resources and that she wants to see a stronger focus on Ceasefire and investigations of violent crimes. 

“The chief himself has said there’s a relatively small number of people committing crimes. We need to make sure our police staff is focused on that small number of people,” Bas said Monday. “I think I need and I believe the council needs a thorough update.”

Schaaf, Reid, and Taylor said they also will make the case for reversing a decision by the City Council to freeze 50 police officer positions that were filled mostly by OPD using overtime. The positions gave OPD a “surge” capacity to respond to more 911 calls, but the council voted to freeze the positions starting in July 2022 to free up about $10.7 million.

Schaaf said her plan would include an analysis that will “make the case that additional police staffing is needed in the wake of this violence spree.” She added, however, that her plan won’t result in reductions to the non-police violence prevention programs the council has already funded, including MACRO and the Department of Violence Prevention.

Schaaf was critical of the council’s decision not to increase police spending by the amount she proposed last summer. Taylor and Reid also opposed some of the council majority’s decisions and have since then called for boosting the police department to respond to the rise in gun violence that started in 2020. 

“There is nothing progressive about unbridled gun violence,” Schaaf said. “This is what Oaklanders want, a comprehensive and effective approach to safety and that includes adequate police staffing.”

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, meanwhile, called Schaaf’s press conference a “political stunt” designed to make it seem as though the City Council hasn’t been working seriously on police staffing issues. Kaplan said the mayor and city administration should be more focused on filling open positions. There are 737 sworn police positions in the budget, meaning there are currently 60 openings. 

“What was done today was a performance and it was a bad performance. She failed to acknowledge that the council already voted for an academy,” Kaplan said. “What they should be focused on is hiring people and filling the slots.” 

The best ways to reduce shootings and homicides are being hotly debated right now in Oakland. Taylor and Reid are both running for mayor in next year’s election and have positioned themselves as supporters of the police. Thao is also running for mayor with backing from most of the unions that represent city workers—except the Oakland Police Officers Association. Last week, OPOA President Barry Donelan wrote an op-ed criticizing councilmembers like Thao who voted last summer to divert money away from policing in order to fund alternatives.

District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife took to Twitter after today’s press conference, writing that Oakland’s police staffing problems aren’t caused by the City Council’s budget decisions. “​​The police staffing crisis, as well as the staffing issues for many city departments, is an administrative issue. [This is] the authority of the City’s administrative branch including the mayor, City Administrator & HR Director,” she wrote.

A man shot and killed while confronting suspected car burglars on Grand Avenue on Sunday afternoon was the 127th homicide Oakland police have investigated this year. The number of homicides is the highest since 2012, when there were 131 killings.

David DeBolt reported on City Hall and policing for The Oaklandside. He spent 12 years working for daily newspapers in the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula and Solano County. He joined the Bay Area News Group in 2012 where he covered a variety of beats, most recently as a senior breaking news reporter. During his time at BANG, DeBolt covered Oakland City Hall, the Raiders stadium saga and the A’s search for a new ballpark, as well as the Oakland Police Department and police reform efforts. He was part of the East Bay Times staff honored with the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for coverage of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. 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. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.