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Oakland council reverses course, votes to add police academy

on September 22, 2021

Oakland City Council on Tuesday voted to add a fifth police academy in the next two years to recruit more officers and increase staffing, reversing a decision from three months earlier.

The council approved the resolution a day after Oakland recorded its 100th homicide this year. It passed by a 6-2 vote, with Nikki Fortunato Bas and Carroll Fife voting no. 

In June, the council rejected the mayor’s request for six police academies over the next two years and budgeted only four. Mayor Libby Schaaf requested six as a way to rein in police overtime costs, which exceeded $35 million last year and resulted in more than 100 officers doubling — and in some cases, more than tripling — their salaries. 

“This is a step to deliver the response that we needed in June and more so right now,” Councilmember Treva Reid said.

The Police Department had as many 724 officers this year and currently is down to 694, with six leaving in September, according to a quarterly staffing memo filed Friday.

“We need these academies to help fill that gap,” Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said at a Monday news conference. 

If Oakland falls below 678 officers it would lose tax revenue from Measure Z, an ordinance that voters passed in 2014 that directs some tax and parking revenue to crime prevention programs. It includes a caveat that police staffing remain at a certain level.

Many residents at Tuesday’s meeting urged the council not to authorize another academy, saying it would reverse the work done to develop alternatives to policing, such as the MACRO program that will redirect some calls to a civilian response team in the coming months. Some also pointed to reports that indicate more police officers don’t reduce violent crime.

“The residents have already spoken on this issue and we have resoundingly stated that we do not want extra police academies,” resident Colleen Monahan said.

Oakland Police Officers’ Association President Barry Donelan decried the City Council for not acting sooner. “Oakland’s dwindling ranks of police officers are struggling to stem the violence and bloodshed on city streets,” he said in a prepared statement.

Violent crime is on the rise in Oakland, with homicides up by about 40% from last year. At the same time, the city directed a task force to reimagine public safety and decrease Police Department spending by $150 million.

Armstrong said at a Police Commission meeting Thursday that public criticism and high workload are among the reasons why officers are leaving.

“The current climate in the department, the way in which they are viewed by the public, the constant criticism that they face is a tremendous challenge,” Armstrong said. “We’ve heard that they don’t feel like any other city faces the criticism that they face.”

OPD Deputy Director Kiona Suttle told the Public Safety Committee last week that many officers are leaving to join the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. 

The new academy will start in February with an anticipated class of 20 recruits. It will use leftover funds from other academies that were not at capacity. Currently, 26 recruits are being trained and are expected to graduate by the end of the year.

The city is looking for ways to bring more Oakland residents into the police ranks. Only about 10% of officers live in the city, and the department has long struggled to increase those numbers.

Tuesday’s resolution directs the city administrator to look into the cost of adding a child care program that could enable more women to consider the job.

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Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: oaklandnorthstaff@gmail.com.

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