The Oakland City Council on Tuesday voted to authorize two additional police academies over the next two years in order to help fill vacancies and address attrition in the police department. The move comes amid a spike in homicides in the city, and less than six months after the council took a vote to "defund" the department.
Oakland's city council made national headlines in June when they voted to divert $18 million in police department funding toward crime reduction efforts and a new Department of Violence Prevention. But fast forward to the end of 2021, with the city's homicide count having reached its highest point in a decade — there have been 129 homicides in Oakland this year to date, up from 100 last year — and the council is scrambling to address the dwindling ranks of sworn police officers.
Both Mayor Libby Schaaf and Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong have been lamenting the city's need to hire more officers in recent months. And Councilmember Sheng Thao, who last month announced her candidacy for mayor, recently proposed a $50,000 hiring-bonus program to make lateral hires of trained officers from other cities, in order to staff the police department up quicker. Those officers would be able to hit the streets after a briefer, 15-week academy training in Oakland, versus the usual 26 weeks for new recruits.
The Oakland Police Department is budgeted to have 737 sworn officers, but with faster-than-expected attrition, there are only 676 officers in the department currently. As the East Bay Times explains, five police academies were already approved in the two-year budget cycle ending in 2023, and Tuesday's vote will add two more for a total of seven — a move that is meant to address the ~60-officer shortfall in the current department, though it won't be an immediate fix.
It's a move that marks an about-face for this city council since just five months ago.
As the East Bay Times notes, while the council was meeting on Tuesday, five Oakland-area chambers of commerce held a press conference to amp up the pressure to hire more officers for the department.
While there is an $11 million additional cost for the extra academies — which aim to graduate 30 officers each, though classes have tended to fall short of that number in recent years — this is not being framed as a re-funding. City Administrator Ed Reiskin (the former director of the SFMTA), tells the East Bay Times that the funds will come from savings from previous smaller-than-budgeted academy classes, as well as budgeted salaries from unfilled positions across other city departments.
According to Bay City News, six out of eight city council members voted in favor of the extra police academy classes — Nikki Fortunato Bas, Dan Kalb, Rebecca Kaplan, Treva Reid, Loren Taylor and Sheng Thao — with Councilmember Carroll Fife abstaining and Councilmember Noel Gallo voting no.
Sentiments among city leaders about funding/defunding the police department have notably shifted over the course of this year. The city council initially only budgeted for four police academies over the next two years, adding a fifth in September — something that Thao proposed, telling the Chronicle that her thinking had changed since she voted to divert that $18 million in June and only have four academies.
One group that has been adamantly opposed to more spending on police hiring is the Anti Police-Terror Project, and group co-founder Cat Brooks issued a statement saying, "For decades in Oakland we’ve over-invested in policing and the number of homicides and robberies this year are clear proof that this approach to public safety simply does not work."
Mayor Schaaf praised the council's vote, saying, "Our residents spoke up today and their voices were heard. They 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."
As NBC Bay Area reported in June, Schaaf had originally proposed the extra two police academies in her budget proposal, but this was rejected by the council when they approved the new budget five months ago.
The Oakland Police Department says it is losing about eight officers per month to retirements and attrition, and it will graduate a class of 26 new recruits from one police academy before the end of the year.
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images