Oakland’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday abruptly sought to change the potential provider for the city’s alternative response to police.
City staff had recommended Bay Area Community Services over four other groups including La Familia, which recently changed its name to Alliance for Community Wellness.
But several members of the public spoke in favor of La Familia, and that and recent negative news coverage of BACS appeared to sway the committee’s opinion. The effort surprised city staff, who prepared a presentation for Tuesday’s meeting.
“This was a bit of a shock,” said Sarai Crain, deputy chief of violence prevention, who shared the presentation virtually for the public and committee members.
The contract, which cannot exceed $1.6 million, would fund a pilot program for the Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland, who would respond to non-violent, non-felony situations that police respond to now, with the idea that police sometimes use lethal force when other outcomes might be possible.
The pilot program would have as its official beginning Jan. 1, 2021, and end June 2022.
Forty-five people signed up to speak during public comment at the committee meeting, with many saying BACS is not a good choice.
Chair of the committee, Councilmember Carroll Fife, said she received an email Monday night regarding a three-part news report about BACS that shone a negative light on the organization.
Fife also said BACS seemingly dominates city contracts.
Committee members sensed an urgency by the public to begin the pilot program as soon as possible and that was one reason city staff chose BACS.
But Jennifer Ellis, chief strategy officer at La Familia, told committee members her group is ready to start immediately.
Under the plan laid out by Crain, BACS would hire and train staff over a four- to six-month period.
Crain said under the same plan, teams of three people would respond to crisis situations in East and West Oakland rather than police.
One person would be an emergency medical technician, another a crisis support specialist who may be able to deescalate a situation and the third a community resource specialist.
During public comment, one speaker said BACS is not part of the Oakland community. But BACS employee DeAndre Thompson disagreed.
“I’m from Oakland,” he said. “I’m out here and we care.”
Thompson said he could name 15 to 20 more BACS employees who are Oakland residents.
A video of the Public Safety Committee meeting is available on the city’s website.