By John Ramos

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – The Oakland City Council voted last week to divert money from the police, which led many to believe the department budget was being cut.  But some who made that decision told KPIX 5 that’s a misunderstanding.

At a news conference on Monday, Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong denounced the $18 million in cuts to his budget voted by the City Council.  He said it would reduce police response and decrease the number of new recruits by eliminating two academy classes over the next two years.

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“Today, we find ourselves in a crisis,” Armstrong told reporters. “We already have a tough time responding to the high number of calls we get. This will make it tougher, having less officers in the field.”

That “cut” may not be a cut at all, according to Council President Nikki Fortunado-Bas.

“The action that we took on the budget was reducing a proposed increase by the Mayor from $27 million more, to just $9 million more,” Fortunato-Bas said. “It was not a cut.”

The council president said they simply decided not to increase, by two, the number of academies, as the mayor’s budget proposal recommended.

Joining in that action was an unlikely ally: Councilmember Noel Gallo.

“The Mayor had assigned it and this is what she wanted to contribute,” he said.  But Gallo said getting a $9 million increase instead of $27 million is not a reduction,” Gallo said. “It is not a cut.”

An outspoken advocate for the police, Gallo said he is angry that the police department is complaining about staffing shortages. He said years ago he got the funding to fully staff the department at 782 officers, but it never happened.

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“That money’s been sitting there every year but they didn’t follow through,” he said. “They didn’t hire, they’ve never come close to 782. But they were doing overtime.”

Instead of funding the additional academies, the council decided to use the money for crisis response programs that do not involve the police, as a way to de-escalate violent interactions between officers and the public.

Oakland resident Floyd Allen, who is African-American, said, in his community, things often become more tense when the cops arrive.

“There’s no comfort when you see a police officer come with a gun.  It’s like, oh, I’m going to jail or I’m going to get shot, especially for Black folks,” Allen said.

“They have money now, but there’s still more violence right now.  So, they want more money?  It’s not really being utilized for what it should be.  It shouldn’t just be for guns, it should be for counselors.”

Fortunato-Bas said there is other funding the department will lose, but it is money attached to activities the police will no longer be responsible for.

Mental health crisis response will now be handled by the Fire Department, and traffic nuisance issues will be shifted to the Transportation Department.

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The approved budget for the Police Department is for the next two years of operation, beginning July 1st.