The Oakland City Council voted Tuesday to add more police academies and officers, reversing a course of police defunding and hiring freezes from the last year and a half.
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In 2020, a wave of local support in Oakland pushed to defund the police in Oakland, as well as reduce officers in the OPD. While the police budget wasn’t ultimately reduced, many positions in the department were frozen with funds that would likely gone to the police instead being rerouted to civilian-led public safety programs and other local endeavors aimed at a reduction in crime.
At the same time, crime in nearby San Francisco, has exploded. Carjackings in Oakland have gone up by 100%, with a 50% rise in other crimes like shootings being reported by the Oakland Police. Oakland’s homicide rate is the highest it has been in decades, with its 100th homicide happening in September.
In comparison, there were only 52 homicides in the city by that time in 2019. Currently in Oakland, there have been 129 homicides in total.
Despite opposition from Black Lives Matters and others groups which have pushed relentlessly for police defunding in favor of community projects, Oakland began to reverse course in September by approving a new police academy and boosting the number of officers in the city by 2022.
While this was a step forward, it was soon clear that more was needed, as more Oakland PD stats on crime came in and showed higher than expected crime figures.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf subsequently came up with a new proposal to add two police academies instead of just one, and to open up 60 previously frozen Oakland PD positions. With high crime rates overshadowing recent progressive measures and the number of sworn officers going from 723 to 676 in less than a year, the city council voted 6-1 with one abstention for the measure.
“Residents spoke up for a comprehensive approach to public safety — one that includes prevention, intervention and addressing crime’s root causes, as well as an adequately staffed police department,” said Mayor Schaaf on Tuesday.
Others noted surprise but appreciation of the vote on Tuesday.
“Oakland actually did something sensible,” former police officer Ryan McCallum told the Globe Wednesday. “They’re not going to stop this crime rise with just boosting the number of officers, but it’s a good first step to alleviate the problem. Oakland saw what these new policies were doing when it came to policing, so they’re correcting it. It’s slowed down by red tape, but hey, it’s something.”
Critics of the new measure said that there is no Oakland PD shortage of officers and that a reshift of crime focus is more needed.
“I can’t believe it,” said Terry Carswell, a reform supporter in Oakland who assisted in several marches last year. “We needed less police and a more focus on community. Solve the problem from the ground up. Now they’re worried about the first rise in crime they see and they start to undo everything we fought for. It’s infuriating.”
Another measure to add signing bonuses of $50,000 for officers from other cities and $20,000 to Oakland residents that become police cadets was not voted on, but will be at a later date.
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