Oakland leaders vote to fund violence prevention staff, business security grants, amid public safety debate | Courthouse News Service
Thursday, November 30, 2023
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Oakland leaders vote to fund violence prevention staff, business security grants, amid public safety debate

After Oaklanders sparred for hours at City Hall over methods of preventing violence, city officials landed on increasing funding for community nonprofits.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — City leaders in Oakland will increase funding for community agencies working to prevent violence amid recent surges in property and violent crime.

Following a meeting that went late into the night on Tuesday, Oakland’s City Council voted, with five in favor and three absent, to find funds to explore new public safety strategies, like staffing up the city’s 911 dispatch center and creating grants for local businesses to install security cameras.

The city council also approved $2.25 million in grants through the Department of Violence Prevention to pay for staff at six local nonprofits, adding $325,000 intended to last through Dec. 31, 2024.

Leaders addressed the timing of the vote, which came as the city reckons with a budget deficiency.

“We are in a crisis right now, and I know people are scared,” said council member Carroll Fife, noting the pandemic caused major increases in homelessness, poverty and hunger, and calls for better pay have driven strikes in multiple industries. 

“We only talk about the lie that our police were defunded, but we don't talk about that our public schools are defunded, that our employment programs are defunded. What we need to do is make sure that people’s common everyday needs are taken care of.”

Dan Kalb, another council member, pointed to the recent increase in homicides as reason to work with state and federal agencies to help confiscate guns in the community.

Acting Police Chief Darren Allison praised Oakland’s Ceasefire program as a community-based way to prevent local gun violence, and emphasized understanding the interplay between violence and poverty. 

“The moment we’re in right now is not isolated to Oakland when it comes to violent crime,” he said. “We’re seeing it not only throughout the Bay Area, but in major cities across the country.”

Darren Allison is Oakland' acting police chief after the former was dismissed in February 2023. (City of Oakland via Courthouse News)

The city has been under pressure to address retail theft, robberies and shootings, particularly after missing a deadline to apply and compete for California’s retail crime-fighting grant. But officials on Tuesday also approved using about $1.5 million in grants from the state and U.S. Department of Justice to fund the police department’s Community Police Trust Project, reduce the backlog of cases and cover overhead costs.

Oaklanders turned out to speak their minds at City Hall at the meeting that spanned 12 hours, including the deliberation period. Some demanded more funding for the Oakland Police Department; others implored the city not to return to failed strategies from decades past that drove mass incarceration. 

Sandy Valenciana urged supporting Department of Violence Prevention programs that address the root causes of local violence. “Police alone are inadequate," Valenciana said. "We can’t build a public safety system around vengeance.”

Some commenters encouraged funding for unhoused women and children facing eviction and violence, through various nonprofits. Valerie Brown, outreach coordinator at the anti-human trafficking nonprofit Love Never Fails, said the city has so far paid her organization for more than 400 hours of service, including for helping women who were kidnapped and abused.

Ricardo Garcia-Acosta said Oakland must focus on community-based intervention techniques.

“If we want to feel safe in our areas, we need to increase our investments in trusted organizations,” he said. “Police are always going to be well-funded in comparison to other city departments.”

The council adjourned in memory of residents who were shot inside their homes within the last month.

Oakland's Mayor Sheng Thao received a raise on Tuesday, July 18. (Photo courtesy of the City of Oakland via Courthouse News)

Mayor Sheng Thao has faced criticism after firing former Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong for his handling of the latest in a string of internal misconduct scandals.

One of those critics, Oakland’s local NAACP chapter, is also under fire for giving a platform to organizer Seneca Scott, who has made homophobic statements online, including comparing homosexuality to pedophilia. Some NAACP members held a press conference Tuesday after writing a letter asking the organization's national body to demand the local chapter align with its mandate and stop promoting “failed, displaced politicians and anti-LGBTQ activists pushing right-wing policies.” 

As for Armstrong's firing, the former police chief filed a wrongful termination claim, and on Sept. 7 an administrative hearing officer said in a report that the mayor should consider reinstating him. Retired First District Appellate Court Associate Justice Maria Rivera stopped short of recommending that Armstrong get his job back and found no evidence that a federal monitor, Robert Warshaw, had worked to oust the chief.

Thao, in a statement on Rivera’s report, said she based her decision off Armstrong’s behavior when he repeatedly slammed the federal monitor of more than 20 years and refused to admit to internal systemic problems. 

“That lack of leadership led me to lose confidence in his commitment to reform, and his ability to serve Oakland as a credible messenger and partner to the federal court and federal monitor in finally ending 20 years of oversight,” she said.

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