OAKLAND (KPIX) — The Oakland City Council approved a budget early Thursday evening that will strip $17.4 million in funding from the Oakland Police Department and direct the money toward other programs.

The $18 million is over the course of the next two years.

There was some expectation that the council would delay the controversial decision but, by a vote of 7-2, the Oakland City Council approved a plan that will redirect the funds from the police department to the Department of Violence Prevention with the intention of improving public safety.

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The move comes as Oakland has seen an alarming spike in street violence and deadly shootings, including the mass shooting during Juneteenth festivities at Lake Merritt this past weekend.

The city council held budget discussions that started at 10:30 a.m. Thursday during a special meeting that included hours of public input. Council members Nikki Fortunato Bas and Carroll Fife spearheaded the push to defund the Oakland Police Department with the amended budget vote.

“We can make adjustments if we need to but, right now, we have to focus on our violence prevention, affordable housing, our homeless populations and that’s what this budget helps us move forward and do,” said councilmember Dan Kalb.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf released a statement voicing her opposition to the revised budget and the police department cuts.

“Unfortunately, it [the budget] also cuts 50 police officers who respond to Oaklanders’ 911 calls and enforce traffic safety. It also cuts much-needed future academies, which will significantly reduce police staffing and delay response to Oaklanders in their time of crisis,” Schaaf’s statement read in part. “It will force our officers to work even more overtime shifts, which are expensive and unsafe for officers and residents alike.”

“I believe that until we have proven alternatives, we cannot destroy Oakland’s current public safety system at a time when we are losing so many to gun violence,” the mayor added.

The Oakland Police Officers Association said it supports the programs funded in the new budget but not at the cost of taking officers off the streets.

OPOA president Barry Donelan estimates about 50 vacant positions will no longer be filled which will mean slower 911 response times.

“The two no votes are from council members in districts that are most impacted by violent crime. The message they’re saying is ‘we may support your programs but we do not want less public safety at a time of skyrocketing violent crime,’” Donelan said.

A number of activist groups including Anti Police-Terror Project applauded the reallocation of funds.

“This historic budget ensures a comprehensive audit of the Oakland Police Department and a thorough examination of positions that could be civilianized, moved out of OPD or a combination of the two,” the group said in a released statement.

Following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis last year, many people in Oakland have been demanding that Oakland officials redirect a large part the city’s police budget to alternative public safety measures.

Some contend that police don’t prevent violence, they just respond to it.

Schaaf’s proposed budget sought about $650 million for police in the 2021-23 budget.

The more than $17 million that the City Council budget team would redirect to the Department of Violence Prevention doubles that department’s budget. It would also quadruple the amount the city allocates to the department from the general fund.

The added money would employ violence interrupters and community ambassadors in flatland neighborhoods.

“With increased violence across Oakland, council must act by addressing the roots of violence and poverty,” Bas said.

She said the city must do that by investing in prevention in the most dangerous neighborhoods as well as investing in housing, jobs, libraries, parks, and the arts. The city must also improve its system of policing that gets more guns off the streets and focuses “police response and investigations on serious and violent crime,” Bas said.

“We need to address violence long before it happens, and as we re-open, we need to allow for permitted, organized events across the city for our residents, artists and culture workers,” she said.

Bas and her team are also proposing to spend $4 million that would have been spent on police academies on piloting and eventually expanding the Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland program, also known as MACRO.

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