The Oakland City Council redirected $18 million from proposed police spending to alternative methods of violence prevention when the council passed a $3.8 billion budget Thursday evening.

The vote came about 5:30 p.m. following hours of public comment and discussion at a virtual meeting.

The cuts to police spending were made from Mayor Libby Schaaf’s proposed budget, which would have added two police academy classes to the usual four over the two-year budget cycle.

“The budget passed today by the Oakland City Council makes bold investments to reimagine public safety through violence prevention and non-police strategies that I strongly support,” Schaaf said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, it also cuts 50 police officers who respond to Oaklanders’ 911 calls and enforce traffic safety,” Schaaf said.

Six councilmembers voted in favor of the budget that passed, while Councilmembers Loren Taylor and Treva Reid opposed it because of concerns over an equitable distribution of city funds.

Both councilmembers represent East Oakland.

What passed was an amendment to the budget proposed by the mayor. The mayor’s budget proposal was amended by Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas and Councilmembers Carroll Fife, Dan Kalb, and Noel Gallo.

Addressing the violence

The changes come amid a historic increase in violence in the city, with at least 61 homicides so far this year, up about 90 percent from a year ago, Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said Wednesday.

Armstrong met Wednesday with President Joe Biden, who authorized federal funds for police that Oakland will pursue, Armstrong and the mayor said.

The violence was palpable last weekend when gunfire killed one and wounded at least six others in a shooting near Lake Merritt.

“The budget passed today by the Oakland City Council makes bold investments to reimagine public safety… Unfortunately, it also cuts 50 police officers who respond to Oaklanders’ 911 calls and enforce traffic safety.”

Mayor Libby Schaaf

But Armstrong reportedly said no number of officers at the lake would have prevented the tragedy and some councilmembers used that statement to bolster their argument for less spending on police.

Many Oakland residents have been demanding less spending since the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, calling on city leaders to cut the Police Department’s budget by 50 percent and invest that money in alternatives to police.

One such investment that the council supports is Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland, also known as MACRO.

Under a pilot program, trained MACRO personnel will respond to non-violent, non-criminal mental and behavioral health calls instead of police.

The budget passed Thursday will invest $4 million in MACRO.

Parachute politics

Although the investments in alternatives to police are expected to reduce violence, Taylor expressed concern that they are not proven or in place.

“We are asking people to jump out of an airplane without a parachute, promising to get to them before they need it to land,” Taylor said in a statement.

Before the final vote, Reid put forth an amendment to add a third police academy class in the first year of the budget and reduce the number of classes to one in the second year.

Reid expressed concern about redirecting the proposed police spending when bullets are flying into the homes of East Oaklanders who she represents.

The amendment failed by a vote of 6-3, with Kalb, Taylor, and Reid the three votes in favor.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.