Oakland, CA

Homicides, violence surges to historic levels, but Oakland's city council unanimously backs 'defund the police' plan

Golden Gate Media

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Violent crimes are surging throughout Oakland. Its elected leaders want to gut the police department's budget.Oakland Police Dept. Photo

Oakland’s City Council unanimously endorsed a sweeping list of police defunding recommendations during a May 3 special meeting.

The council is vowing to cut its law enforcement budget as the city reels from historic levels of violent crime where shootings and murders have soared to levels unseen in decades.

"The crime we see reported on the news is generally the outcome of decade after decade of resource-lack due to an unsustainable investment of taxpayer dollars into punitive policing,” Oakland City Councilmember Carroll Fife, who represents a large portion of West Oakland said in a statement. “Today we listened to the community and voted to change course. As the Public Safety Committee Chair, I am committed to expanding the definition of ‘safety' and will follow through on the Task Force recommendations during my tenure on the council. I am thankful to my colleagues for their work to pass this resolution."

The recommendations prioritized by the city council, according to Fife, include:

“ • Long-term investment in the Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland program which is an alternative to 911;

• Increasing gender-based violence services;

• Moving most traffic enforcement from OPD to Oakland's Department of Transportation;

• Efforts to end OPD's use of militarized equipment;

• Increasing support for restorative justice and violence prevention efforts;

• Investing in the Oakland Youth Commission;

• Prioritizing affordable housing and homeless programs; and

• Supporting a Phase II process for the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force”

Fife also said the council seeks to “to research transferring the Internal Affairs Department out of OPD into the city's Community Police Review Agency and creating a Department of Children, Youth, and Families.”

Oakland Police officers have thoroughly criticized the recommendations, particularly as the city deals with an astronomical surge in shootings, homicides, robberies, carjackings, and other violent offenses.

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Oakland Police show a gun, illegal to carry in California, recently recovered from a suspect during an arrest.Oakland Police Dept. Photo

Homicides in Oakland are up 200 percent in 2021 compared to 2020’s figures. Shootings have also surged into the triple-digit percentages with heavily armed criminals spraying neighborhoods with gunfire on a nightly basis.

Officers said they are particularly concerned about staffing and proper equipping of the police force as they respond to these calls. The city’s police force has been underworked, understaffed, and suffers from low morale, according to insiders.

One of the recommendations calls for the “demilitarization” of the force, which includes removing its armored rescue vehicle that’s deployed to confront heavily armed criminals, and the grounding of Oakland’s police helicopter. Opponents said eliminating the assets will place the lives of police officers at risk when responding to violent offenses.

Recently, Oakland had to refund the public safety budget to the tune of $10 million to staff a police detail designed to crack down on violent and reckless sideshows that have infiltrated every neighborhood of the city. Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong has publicly asked the Biden Administration to provide federal grants to help restore community-based anti-crime strategies that have previously proved effective at fighting crime.

“The message from the Council is clear: public safety is much more than policing,” Fife stated. “We must do more to ensure healthy communities and that means investing on the front end to minimize the need for police on the back end. And while this resolution is a momentous first step, it is only the beginning.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has yet to release her proposed budget, which may or may not include a budget cut to police. Many recommendations will require negotiations with the Oakland Police Officers Association to be enacted.

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