OAKLAND (CBS SF) – Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong sharply criticized proposed funding cuts for his department on Monday following four weekend murders and a shooting officer responded moments before to start his press conference.
Oakland has recorded 65 homicides so far this year – three people died on Friday and a fourth on Saturday. The number of victims lost on the streets of Oakland to deadly violence has risen 90% from what it was then just a year ago.
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Oakland City Council on Thursday passed a budget that redirects more than $ 17 million from the police department to pay for social service programs over the next two years.
“Today we find ourselves in a crisis,” Armstrong said. “We find ourselves reeling from a weekend of violence where we saw four homicides over a three-day period… Our shootings are up over 70% from last year. Our flights are up 11% this year. There have already been 1,300 flights in this city this year.
“Our car hijackings are up almost 88%. So we clearly see that crime is out of control in the city of Oakland and our response has been for fewer police resources. When the majority of city council members vote to fund this police department, that additional $ 17 million that has been cut from the police department’s budget will have an impact.
Oakland Police Officers Association president Barry Donelan estimated that budget cuts would mean around 50 vacant officer positions would no longer be filled.
“When you hear statements from those who say that nothing will change – that’s not true,” Armstrong said. “Yes it will. The impact will be immediate. Slower response times to emergency calls for service. The 911 emergency units that were used to respond to violent crimes, used to respond to calls from members of the the community to our 911 system, will have fewer resources, fewer officers responding.
Armstrong said its service was already overwhelmed by the volume of 911 calls with its current workforce.
“We are already struggling to respond to the high number of calls we receive,” he told reporters. “It will make things more difficult.”
Armstrong, citing two fatal crashes in the past 48 hours, also warned that traffic authorities would take a back seat to respond to violent crime.
He said there are currently 714 officers in a force protecting a town of more than 420,000 people, but the numbers are dropping with 5.5 officers leaving the department each month.
“Our department is not growing, it is shrinking,” Armstrong said, adding that the department would have fewer than 700 officers by December.
Council members Nikki Fortunato Bas and Carroll Fife spearheaded funding for the Oakland Police Department with the amended budget vote.
“We can make adjustments if we need to, but, for now, we need to focus on our violence prevention, our affordable housing, our homeless populations and that’s what this budget is helping us to do. go ahead and do it, ”board member Dan Kalb said when the measure was passed. by a margin of 7-2.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf released a statement expressing his opposition to the revised budget and cuts to police services.
“Unfortunately, he [the budget] Also cut 50 police officers who answer Oaklanders 911 calls and enforce road safety. It also removes much-needed future academies, which will drastically reduce police personnel and delay response to the Oaklanders in times of crisis, ”Schaaf’s statement read in part. “This will force our officers to work even more overtime, which is costly and dangerous for officers and residents.”
A number of militant groups, including Anti Police-Terror Project, applauded the reallocation of funds.
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“This historic budget guarantees a full audit of the Oakland Police Department and a thorough review of positions that could be civilized, removed from the OPD, or a combination of the two,” the group said in a released statement.
Following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis last year, many people in Oakland demanded that Oakland officials redirect a large chunk of the city’s police budget to other security measures public.
The more than $ 17 million that the city council budget team would redirect to the violence prevention department doubles that department’s budget. It would also quadruple the amount the city allocates to the department from the general fund.
The extra money would employ violence interrupters and community ambassadors in lowland neighborhoods.
“With the increase in violence in Oakland, the council must act by addressing the roots of violence and poverty,” Bas said.
The cuts were proposed as a way to spend more money on crime prevention and non-police response to calls. The plan is to deploy teams of trained emergency response workers to defuse situations instead of sending armed agents. On a downtown street, it seemed like a good idea for Jadonna Williams.
“People need social services,” she said. “So now people are going to get the help they need. And I think with that, you wouldn’t need all that big budget for the police.
But council member Loren Taylor, who voted against the definancing, fears those teams may not be operational by the time the cuts take place.
“The question is how do we get to this point,” he said, “and if it won’t be in place, or if we’re not sure it will be in place within a reasonable timeframe, we won’t. shouldn’t bet the shut up on it.
Taylor believes this could leave the city’s most violence-plagued neighborhoods with even less protection than they currently have. Resident Jarret Whitmore agreed.
“I think it’s a good idea for the future. I don’t think that’s a good idea at the moment, given the level of hostility and violence in the city, ”he said. “I can perfectly imagine what it would be like without the cops and I don’t really want to live in the cowboy days anymore.”
But Justin Brice summed up the feelings of many locals. As a young African American living in Oakland, he doesn’t want fewer officers, he just wants them to be more respectful of the black community.
“… not just power over someone else … helping people, you know?” said Brice. “That’s what they’re here for and to protect. “
But does he think that’s what’s happening now?
“Uh… no,” he said, “I can’t say yes. I do not think so.
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