Oakland City Council OKs task force — with goal of defunding police by 50%

OAKLAND — The Oakland City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday night to form a task force that will work on a plan to reconstruct public safety in Oakland — with the goal of reducing the police department budget by 50% over the next two years.

The City Council’s 8-0 vote came one week after Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf rejected two attempts by the council to slash additional funds from the police department in its current budget.

The council created the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force to overhaul public safety in Oakland with the goal of increasing community safety through alternatives to 911 calls, and reallocating police funds in programs having to do with housing, health services, jobs and homelessness.

“I want to underscore that the goal of this task force, as you’ve heard already, is reallocating our resources so that we can improve safety for all our residents by investing in our communities,” said Council member Nikki Fortunato Bas, who with Council member Loren Taylor, authored the task force plan.

Bas quoted some statistics from the Center for Popular Democracy that compared the percentage of police departments’ share of general fund budgets from several cities. Bas said that the OPD makes up 44% of Oakland’s general fund budget.

By comparison, Bas said, that percentage is 26% in Baltimore; 30% in Detroit; 21% in Nashville; and 30% in Atlanta. The Center for Popular Democracy is a nonprofit advocacy group that promotes progressive politics.

“I’ve really been moved by the hundreds, maybe thousands, of public comments — not just during our City Council meetings but also at police commission meetings since the murder of George Floyd,” Bas said. “And the public has overwhelmingly urged us as a City Council, as the city of Oakland, to reevaluate our public safety priorities and reallocate our precious public resources toward the root causes of violence.”

Council member Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who voiced support for the task force, noted past efforts in the city to bring about police reform and racial equity.

“I am deeply touched by the power of this moment, and I’m really, really, really tremendously grateful for what’s in front of us — and our collective role in securing a more just and safe future for our city,” she said.

McElhaney proposed that the 17-member task force not include a mayoral appointment, but others disagreed. Vice Mayor Larry Reid said that Schaaf, as the city’s top elected official, has the right to name someone to the panel.

The task force would include appointees from each of the eight City Council members. It would also be made up of formerly incarcerated individuals, victims of violent crime and their family members, immigrants, city labor unions, law enforcement, young residents, and those impacted by police violence. In addition, it would include representatives from the city’s community policing advisory board, the public safety services oversight commission, the police commission, the budget advisory commission, and the youth advisory commission.

According to Bas and Taylor, the timeline would be as follows: the task force would be introduced to the public on Sept. 29. Its draft of recommendations would be presented to the City Council by Dec. 31, and the final task force recommendations would be given to the council on March 31, 2021. The City Council would implement the task force recommendations in its budget adoption on June 30, 2021.

A week ago, Schaaf cast the tie-breaking vote to prevent a plan that would have made further cuts in the police department budget. She stepped in to reject a proposal by Council members Dan Kalb and Sheng Thao to cut $2.75 million from the police budget.

Another, separate proposal by Bas and Council President Rebecca Kaplan that would have reallocated $10.4 million from the police budget was also defeated at the July 21 meeting. Last month, the council approved a 2020-21 fiscal year budget that slashed $14.6 million from the police department.

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