OAKLAND — Mayor Libby Schaaf’s newly released budget proposal would increase police spending from the general purposes fund over the next two years, despite the Oakland City Council last year stating its goal to cut police funding from that fund by half.
The budget was presented Monday to the City Council, who will use the mayor’s proposal as a starting point to figure out what services the city will fund for the next two years.
The proposed budget would increase police spending from about $316 million this year to $341 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year that starts in July, and then to $351 million in 2021-23. Last year — the 2019-20 fiscal year — the police budget was just over $349 million.
That puts the police budget at 41% of the city’s general purpose fund in the 2021-22 fiscal year and 45% share of the city’s general purpose fund in the following fiscal year.
The proposal nearly doubles the funding budgeted for police overtime spending, calling for $61 million total to be allotted for overtime in the two-year budget — up from roughly $32 million in the last two-year budget cycle.
The police department exceeded its budget last fiscal year by $32 million, including $19 million of unbudgeted overtime. The police have annually shot past the overtime budget at least since since the 2011-12 fiscal year, according to department memos. It’s a problem that police and city administration leaders have framed as one stemming from the City Council not budgeting enough overtime pay.
With vacancies for some positions, Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said, the department often needs to use overtime shifts to backfill certain duties — such as responding to 911 calls. There are currently 709 sworn officers in the department.
“We have seen more 911 calls than our patrol staffing can manage,” Armstrong said, noting that the city also intends to reduce specialized units in order to beef up patrol staffing and respond to 911 calls until it can afford to keep those specialized units.
Schaaf’s budget would fund six police recruit academies over two years — an effort to increase staffing and reduce overtime spending, city staff says. The budget also would increase staffing for the police department’s homicide and missing persons investigations.
But many activists say the city needs transparency and more oversight over police overtime spending, not more money for police.
“Libby Schaaf’s proposed budget seeks to institutionalize Oakland police overspending,” said Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti-Police Terror Project and a longtime advocate for defunding the police. “The vast majority of people in Oakland want the city to reinvest in our community and address public safety with prevention — not retribution. We want — actually, we need — better schools, emotional and mental health support, economic opportunities, less potholes, cleaner neighborhoods, improved libraries and housing for all, yet the mayor refuses to listen to these demands.”
Last week, the City Council voted on 12 priorities from the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force to help guide their budget decisions in shifting some duties — and money — away from police and instead investing in social services for residents most impacted by violence.
Among the recommendations are to move some traffic enforcement away from police and into the Department of Transportation, which Schaaf’s budget also directs.
Schaaf, during a Monday presentation and public discussion over her proposed budget, said the police spending was increased because many Oakland residents want it to be. She said the city has to “center our decisions not on the loudest voices but on the voices of those impacted.”
The city’s budget priorities survey conducted for this cycle shows mixed responses to the issue of police funding. About 43% of the 1,862 people who responded to the survey said the city should have more police officers patrolling neighborhoods and responding to 911 calls. But 36% said “reducing spending on police services” should be among the top steps in stemming the city’s budget gap.
A separate survey conducted by the Oakland Rising coalition — a collection of nonprofits and community activists — found that out of 1,117 people they surveyed, 65% wanted to defund police by 50%.
Dozens of people called into Monday’s meeting, many calling on the council to adjust the mayor’s budget to reduce police spending and allocate it to other services, such as housing.
Many callers and city council members expressed alarm at the mayor’s budget coming a week later than the city’s legal deadline, as well as at the new format of the budget, which was presented in an interactive website instead of a printable budget book.
The city’s fiscal policy requires the mayor’s proposed budget to be released by May 1. One day before that deadline, Schaaf emailed the City Council to say, “I am sorry that circumstances dictate — as they frequently have during this unprecedented year — that we need a little more time” and indicated it would be available May 7.
In a statement last week, Justin Berton, a spokesman for the mayor, said the “challenges of this year” had made it difficult for everyone to meet pre-COVID-19 deadlines. He pointed to a portion of the city’s fiscal policy that calls for the City Council to host a biannual budget workshop in February, which did not happen until the end of March.
City council members have said that because of the budget’s complexity, they — and residents — needed more time to analyze it before Monday’s meeting. They indicated that the issue was compounded by the fact that the budget was released as a web page with a series of interactive links that came with a bit of a learning curve.
“I am disappointed in how we’re having this discussion today and we’re learning how to use this system,” said District 4 Councilmember Sheng Thao, noting that a chunk of time in Monday’s meeting was dedicated to explaining how to use the budget tool.
City administrator Ed Reiskin said his staff was trying to create a more transparent, detailed tool to view the budget, and that he didn’t clear it with the council because he considered the format change “administrative.”
The City Council decided to continue the discussion from Monday to later in May, and directed the city administrator to put a fully searchable PDF version of the budget — something Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan deemed a necessity for people who need to download it for offline access.
For the next several weeks, council members will host community hearings on the budget proposals. They must adopt a balanced budget by the end of June.