A imposing building wrapped in silver and blue metal paneling with a large emblem of a police badge above the door and the words "Oakland Police" on the badge.
The Oakland Police Department Administrative Building in Downtown Oakland. Credit: Pete Rosos

The Oakland City Council on Tuesday approved adding two police academies next year and hiring a recruitment firm to help fill vacant officer positions and recover from a recent wave of resignations and retirements of police officers. 

Hiring more officers is necessary for the city to continue collecting a parcel tax that funds public safety. But some councilmembers also cited a rise in shootings and homicides as a reason to boost police staffing. Oakland so far this year has had 129 homicides, the deadliest year in nearly a decade. 

The 6-1 vote came after emotional testimony from residents who called in to the meeting and said they had been victims of assaults and robberies, and support hiring more police. Other residents questioned whether more police would help prevent crime and expressed concerns that the city was reversing course after investing in non-police violence prevention and emergency response programs this past summer. 

Councilmembers delayed approving a plan proposed by District 4 Councilmember Sheng Thao to offer $50,000 hiring bonuses to officers who join the Oakland Police Department, and $20,000 bonuses to Oakland residents who graduate from police academies and become city police officers. Councilmembers will discuss the details of Thao’s plan at a meeting on Dec. 21. 

The council vote directs City Administrator Ed Reiskin “make every effort” to fill one of the two academy classes with experienced police recruits. But the idea of hiring “laterals”—officers from other police departments—was controversial among the City Council. 

District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife abstained from the vote. Councilmember Noel Gallo, who represents District 5, voted no. Gallo said OPD has had trouble luring outside officers and the ones who have joined the department have created problems. 

Thao said the recruitment firm would be directed to disqualify any officer with a history of misconduct and focus on applicants from the LGBTQ community, women, and people of color. She wants to establish a hiring panel that includes an Oakland youth and an expert on the department’s federal oversight program. 

Training an experienced officer takes about 15 weeks, compared to six months for new police recruits, OPD officials told the council Tuesday. 

“This plan is bold and disruptive and recognizes that waiting until 2023 for new recruits to finish training will not fill the vacancies we have now,” Thao said. 

Over the past few weeks, the city has been scrambling to find ways to boost police staffing. 

When the city approved its two-year budget in June, staffing projections showed the number of Oakland officers would remain above 678, the threshold needed to continue collecting millions in Measure Z parcel tax revenue. Measure Z, which voters approved in 2014, helps fund police, fire services, and violence prevention programs. This fiscal year the tax is expected to generate $26.4 million. 

OPD’s budget increased by about $38 million under the spending plan approved by council in June for the 2021-2022 and 2022-23 fiscal years, a smaller amount than Mayor Libby Schaaf’s budget called for. The council used the money saved to fund non-police violence prevention and emergency response programs. 

They also approved four police academies—two fewer than the mayor wanted—to train and hire new police officers. The council’s budget authorized 737 police officer positions, but OPD has struggled to maintain its ranks. An unexpected number of resignations and retirements has left the department with 676 sworn officers as of Tuesday. 

City Administrator Ed Reiskin told the council on Tuesday that adding two more academies next year—in addition to one the council approved in September—would increase staff to 734 sworn officers by June 2023. That is still less than what is budgeted, but if no action was taken, Reiskin said the city estimates it would have 674 officers by the summer of 2023. OPD expects an academy class of 26 will graduate this month and join the department. 

OPD Chief LeRonne Armstrong told councilmembers that during the pandemic the attrition rate went from five officers a month to eight. A total of 74 officers have either quit, retired or left for other police agencies and the average officer who departed had between six and eight years on the force.

“We are seeing resignation of officers that typically would not be leaving at this point,” Armstrong said. 

Exit interviews and police union surveys have shown the primary reasons are that officers feel unappreciated and unsupported, and are dissatisfied with city and police department leadership. Officers have also cited displeasure over heavy discipline handed down by the department, as well as family reasons, the chief said.

The two academies will cost $11 million. According to Reiskin, to pay for the training, the city plans to use salary savings from city positions that are budgeted but not filled, savings from past academy classes that ended up smaller than expected, and by repurposing OPD equipment funds. 

No funding would be taken away from violence prevention programs or social services. 

“Today’s action will allow us to carry out a holistic vision of public safety to address the tragic surge in crime and violence in our city by increasing Oakland’s police force by 60 more officers,” Mayor Schaaf said in a statement after the vote. “Our residents spoke up today and their voices were heard. They spoke up for a comprehensive approach to public safety—one that includes prevention, intervention, and addressing crime’s root causes, as well as an adequately staffed police department.”

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.