OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Oakland officials are facing a $62 million shortfall due the to COVID pandemic this year, with the city administrator saying there must be cuts to all departments to balance the budget, including the police department.
Mayor Libby Schaaf and City Administrator Ed Reiskin sent a letter to city employees last month saying without massive cuts, “…the General Purpose Fund will be insolvent before the end of the fiscal year… Even the City’s emergency reserve will be completely exhausted.”
But the police officers’ union is pushing back, warning that crime in the city has been on the rise since the start of the pandemic and that now is not the time to cut officers on the streets.
The Oakland Police Officers’ Association took out a full-page ad in the East Bay Times on Tuesday that points to the number of murders year over year as an example of how violent crime skyrocketed in Oakland in 2020. The ad reminded residents about the surge in murders that went from 75 in 2019 to 102 last year.
Union president Barry Donelan says officers want to make sure Oakland residents understand exactly what’s happening in their community.
“Stay-at-home orders and people’s situations are driving some of the crime. There’s a lot of desperate people out there,” said Donelan.
The union says as the city tries to close a $62 million budget gap, the police department could see cuts of about $15 million.
Preliminary proposals call for disbanding the traffic enforcement division, eliminating all foot and bicycle patrols and canceling the spring 2021 police academy for new officers.
“We’re concerned about our ability to address this violent crime as we move into 2021 with even less resources than we had in 2020,” explained Donelan.
Oakland City Council members say they understand the police unions concerns, but with declining revenue due to the pandemic, the money just simply isn’t there.
“All the money that we have been spending has been going to some service, whether it’s public safety, parks, human services, etc. So it’s going to be painful either way,” said Oakland City Council member Loren Taylor.
Taylor says his goal is to work with the police department to identify places where they can reduce the budget without jeopardizing public safety.
The level of crime here and the increase in the last year is so significant that we have to bring it to the fore and inform our residents about how dire it is,” said Barry Donelan, President of the Oakland Police Officers Association.
Oakland resident Bruce Vuong didn’t need the ad to see the rise in crime around his auto repair shop in the Fruitvale District.
“I’ve seen it come, I’ve seen it go, but the city of Oakland is probably the worst I ever seen,” he said. “At nighttime when I go home, I’m afraid for my life.”
A surveillance camera at one business in the area captured video of a group of pimps fighting in the street. The fight ended when one individual let loose with an AK-47.
City Councilman Noel Gallo said the city has become lawless. He pointed to a huge homeless camp on a sidewalk that doesn’t even have tents anymore. They’ve actually built makeshift buildings.
Gallo admitted the financial situation isn’t good, but said cuts need to reflect the city’s priorities.
“We’ve created so many new departments, with so many new committees, commissions, advisory groups left and right that require money,” he said. “My role is very clear and the number one issue is to protect the people on the street.”
Mayor Schaaf said the police cuts will come from special programs and overtime, not the cops on the street. But she said police and fire take more than half of the city’s General Purpose Fund, so there is no way to make significant cuts without affecting those departments. Without those cuts, the financial consequences would be unimaginable.
“We do not like making any cuts, particularly in a time like this when people need public services more than ever,” said Schaaf. “But if we don’t make hard choices now, we will have heartbreaking choices later.”
The police department isn’t the only city department facing budget cuts that could impact safety. The fire department will likely be affected by the budget deficit as well.
As KPIX 5 reported Monday, city staff has proposed that three of the city’s 25 fire engine companies be put out of service, which would result in longer response times.
The city says closing three engine companies would likely cause 14 calls per day to be diverted. Some argue that puts all city residents at risk of not getting help quickly.