Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas announced the amendments to Mayor Libby Schaff's 2021-2023 budget. The budget's focus is providing a stronger safety infrastructure, which includes more funding for school safety and other notable changes. Let's take a look.
Oakland Police Funding
The most notable section of the budget includes bad news for law enforcement. The council will reduce the OPD's budget by at least $18 million over the next several years. Essentially, Bas proposes a twofold reduction in police spending that will yield about $18 million by the end of 2023.
The OPD budget will be reduced by:
- Cutting two out of six police academies for a total savings of about $7.5 million
- Freezing vacant officer positions in the Tactical Operations Units
Mayor Schaff's original budget called for six total police academies, but Bas and the other councilmembers believe that reducing that number could have big yields. As for the Tactical Operations Unit, Bas assures the community that reducing their positions will not disrupt public safety.
Currently, the Tactical Operations Unit responds to 911 calls across the city. However, according to the statistics collected by the city council, 75% of all 911 calls are low-level, non-criminal calls like noise complaints and false alarms. Trimming the fat from the OPD's overall budget will yield considerable funds, which the council promises to pour into non-police safety measures.
What Will They Do With the Money?
The purpose of these budget cuts is to pour finding into non-police services like violence prevention programs and other forms of outreach. In addition to a $30 million contingency budget, the funds from the OPD budget cuts will be a vast resource for outreach programs over the next three years.
Police budget cuts aren't new to Oakland. Last year, Bas pushed for a $25 million cut but couldn't get the proposal off the ground. In addition to the money given to advocacy organizations, Bas has plans to put money toward auditing the police department.
In her words, the goal is "to ensure public dollars are being effectively spent on deterring and responding to violence and solving serious and violent crime."
Why Cut Spending Now?
In light of the civil rights protests and social upheaval of the last few years, some people think that cutting police funding is the last thing cities should do. However, other groups have a personal and gruesome understanding of police violence in their communities.
One of the most upsetting facts is that this level of violence against minorities isn't new. From the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis to the Trump administration, 2016-2020 have been less than peaceful. In fact, police brutality has been a thread in the American tapestry since the beginning.
Oakland isn't new to police violence. In fact, the sheer number of incidents of brutality have paved the way for movements across California and the United States. Below is a list of some of the most pivotal moments in Oakland history that have built the foundation of the modern civil rights movement.
- Jose Barlow Benavidez was shot in the head by police in 1976. Thousands of people gathered on the streets in support of the Benavidez family and protested the brutality. As a result, the family of the victim called for an investigation into the OPD.
- Melvin Black, a 15-year-old boy living in Oakland, was shot dead by OPD in 1979. The resulting upheaval resulted in Mayor Lionel Wilson appointing attorney Joh Burris to investigate the incident. Eventually, Black's family received $693,000 from a civil suit against the police.
- Protests during the summer of 2020 in support of George Floyd mirrored the Watts riots, which served as the catalyst for the Black Panthers.
The above list only scratches the surface of police violence in Oakland. The people of Oakland City understand, on a personal level, the destruction and pain police are capable of in their community. For Bas and others on the council, pushing funding toward violence prevention and outreach is a tangible solution to a generations-long problem.