As Oakland budget looms, city leaders to weigh police defunding calls

OAKLAND — As the city prepares a budget for the new fiscal year starting July 1, a city task force is asking the City Council to embrace its recommendations for diverting millions of dollars from the police department to other services.

At its meeting Monday, the council is scheduled to review 48 recommendations submitted by the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, a group of 17 people charged with figuring out how to cut the police department’s budget in half over the next two years.

Those recommendations were merged from the almost 90 forged from task force meetings held online between September and April.

The recommendations “reflect a significant citywide effort to build consensus on strategies to increase equity in Oakland’s public safety system, improve life outcomes for all residents, especially those most impacted by violence, and improve OPD service levels and response times across the city,” council members Nikki Fortunato Bas and Loren Taylor wrote in a memo to the full council.

The council earlier this year approved a pilot for one of the most significant recommendations: creation of a Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (MACRO) program. Under the MACRO concept, the fire department would handle mental health crises and other non-crime calls by sending out paramedics and counselors. Police currently respond to those calls and critics have said the outcomes sometimes turn violent or deadly because officers escalate volatile situations instead of calming matters.

Another task force recommendation is for some traffic enforcement responsibilities to go to the Department of Transportation, leaving serious driving violations to police.

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And instead of the police department’s internal affairs division and the Community Police Review Agency concurrently investigating complaints about alleged officer misconduct or excessive use of force, the task force recommends that a civilian agency do so. The city’s police oversight commission earlier this year supported that idea.

Some recommendations will require major negotiations with the police union, particularly those that call for renegotiating the labor contract before it expires in 2024 so it’ll be easier to fire officers for misconduct or to cut overtime pay.

The Oakland Police Officers Association did not respond to requests for comment about those recommendations.

James Burch, policy director for the Anti-Police Terror Project in Oakland, which has long advocated for defunding police, said in an interview last month those changes are necessary because of the police department’s “incredibly wasteful spending.”

The department exceeded its $288 million budget last fiscal year by $32 million, including $19 million for overtime, according to city finance reports. Police leaders have attributed the overspending to their responses to summer protests, an uptick in homicides and the need to fill vacant positions with existing officers working extra hours.

Police have decried any cuts to their budget at a time when gun violence is rampant in Oakland, noting that a lack of resources hamstrings their ability to respond to such crimes.

Even on the task force, there was some dissent about how much and when to cut police …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

      

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