SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — The Oakland City Council stopped short Tuesday of further cuts to an already pared-down police budget, slowing but not stopping efforts by a number of California’s largest cities to reshape law enforcement agencies amid public demonstrations demanding action.
The council spent much of the day debating the measure, which would have cut an additional $10.4 million from the police department’s budget, by far the largest of any city agency at roughly $300 million annually.
The council had already agreed to cut $14.6 million from the department budget less than a month after the May 25 police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, whose videotaped death set off national demonstrations that continue sporadically in some cities. The money and any additional cuts would be distributed to city social service agencies, among others, as part of a council goal to reduce the police budget by as much as 50 percent over the next year.
But council members voted 4 to 2 against the more recent measure. The vote, which appeared to have political support several weeks ago, came just days after President Trump threatened to send federal law enforcement officers into Oakland, a city controlled by a Democratic mayor whom he has clashed with before. Trump called the city “a mess,” although most demonstrations have been peaceful since they began two months ago.
Even in opposition, though, council members appeared to suggest the overall goal of a much smaller city police department is one they support. Oakland’s department, troubled over the years, now numbers 732 officers. But like other public agencies in Oakland and across the state, the department is bracing for cuts that will come as the result of deep holes blown in the budget from the economic calamity caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“When it comes to rethinking public safety, I’m completely in line with the fact that we need to be there,” said council member Loren Taylor, who opposed the plan Tuesday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “If the dollars aren’t there, I can’t support what’s going to be listed.”
Oakland has been at the forefront in California of what has been called the “defund the police” movement. But many cities have trimmed back law enforcement budgets amid demonstrations calling on state and city leaders to end policing policies called racist and ineffective in controlling crime.
Public officials have called for a rethinking of what kinds of services police departments should be providing, as still-modest plans begin to shift money from law enforcement agencies to social services.
Neighboring and much smaller Berkeley passed measures earlier this month that would eventually cut the police budget by $36 million — roughly in half — and end the department’s role in traffic stops. Although passed unanimously, the measure sets no timeline for city officials to carry out the changes.
In Los Angeles, county supervisors and the school board have approved deep cuts to the sheriff’s department budget and to the school system’s police agency. The City Council voted earlier this month to cut $150 million from the Los Angeles Police Department’s nearly $2 billion annual operating budget, shifting the money to programs for poor neighborhoods.
But the fiscal crisis ahead has slowed the effort.
In Oakland, Mayor Libby Schaaf initially supported the proposed larger reduction to the police department budget. But Schaaf has turned against the proposal in recent weeks, and before the council vote on Tuesday, she sent an email message to constituents that called it “dangerous and irresponsible.”
The shift has angered some of the mayor’s supporters. Overnight Tuesday, protesters shot off fireworks at the mayor’s home and spray-painted the sidewalk and parts of her house with graffiti. Among the messages were “Wake Up Libby,” “Defund OPD,” and “Blood on Your hands.”
Oakland presents a particular challenge to supporters of a smaller department. Amid rising crime, Oakland voters approved a measure in 2014 that allows the city to collect a property tax to fund the police department, as long as the number of officers remains at 678 or above.
Maintaining that threshold is in jeopardy now, according to city officials. Last week, Oakland’s interim police chief, Susan Manheimer, told reporters the department has more than 60 openings now after employing furloughs, layoffs and other measures to meet budget restrictions.
“We have basically … been defunded over the last decade or so,” she told reporters, according to the Chronicle.