Oakland Council Approves Police Increase Plan

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OAKLAND – City council on Tuesday approved a plan to host two more courses at the police academy next year and use a recruiting agency to add dozens of police officers to its force as it attempts to tackle a deadly wave of gun violence that has contributed to a homicide toll of 129 people this year.

The plan adds two additional classes of academies to complement the five currently authorized by city council for the current two-year budget cycle, bringing the total number of academies to two fiscal years and is expected to add approximately 60 officers to the current sworn staff of 676.

“Today’s action will allow us to implement a holistic vision of public safety to address the tragic increase in crime and violence in our city by increasing the Oakland Police Force from 60 more officers, “said Mayor Libby Schaaf, whose administration proposed the hiring plan. Tuesday, in a written statement after the vote.

The board postponed another plan presented by board member Sheng Thao, which aims to fill vacant police positions in part by offering officers from other departments $ 50,000 signing bonuses to come to Oakland and offering bonuses of $ 20,000 to city residents entering and exiting the police. academies that train them to become cops.

Details of this proposal will be discussed at a board meeting on Dec. 21, the board decided. In the meantime, the city administration will begin to explore using the external recruiting agency to recruit experienced officers into the force, which Thao has also proposed.

“Waiting until 2023 for new hires to complete their training will not fill the vacancies we currently have,” Thao said in a statement after the vote.

But the idea of ​​hiring “laterally” in other police departments was controversial within the council, which did not vote unanimously on the hiring plan. District 3 council member Carroll Fife abstained. And District 5 council member Noel Gallo voted against the plan, saying past attempts to hire experienced officers had put the city “in trouble” and cornered them with officers who had problematic records.

Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong also noted past issues with lateral hiring, but said training a group of experienced officers for Oakland would be faster than training new recruits, meaning that officers could exit earlier – around 15 weeks after the start of academic training – than waiting for new recruit academies which typically take around 26 weeks.

Thao added that by using a recruiting agency and creating a diverse panel of people to interview side agents, the city can better screen agents with bad backgrounds and focus on hiring agents from the community. LGBTQ, people of color and women.

Currently, the city is budgeted to have 737 officers, but with officers resigning or retiring sooner than expected, the department has struggled to fill the positions and has fallen to 676 sworn-in officers.

A current police academy is expected to train around 26 officers by the end of the year, but after that, it will be months before future academy classes send new officers to the streets.

Dozens of Oakland residents or other members of the public called the meeting on Tuesday to weigh in on what has been a heated debate in the city about how to increase public safety and whether to increase or reduce police personnel and resources.

Many residents and activists questioned whether the problem was really a shortage of police personnel or a failure to properly allocate resources to focus on violent crime.

“For decades in Oakland we have overinvested in law enforcement and the number of homicides and thefts this year is clear proof that this approach to public safety just doesn’t work,” Cat Brooks, Executive Director of Justice Teams Network and a co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, said last week after Schaaf unveiled the police hiring proposal.

But others have called for more police to stem the violence in a year that has seen the highest number of homicides in nearly a decade.

As city council met on Tuesday morning, leaders of five Oakland-area chambers of commerce held a press conference denouncing the increase in violence and calling for an increase in police numbers to address the issue.

“We believe that no one is safe and that no place is safe,” said Carl Chan, president of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. “Anyone can become a victim of crime, and that’s not acceptable. “

Research is mixed as to whether increasing the number of police officers reduces crime or how this strategy compares to violence prevention measures.

Thao also highlighted the Z measure plot tax requirements that voters approved in 2014 to pay for policing and violence prevention programs, which call for the city to recruit at least 678 officers. If the number drops below that, the city cannot collect the tax, although there is a grace period to allow it to take action to hire more agents and the council can legislate for an exemption.

“While I believe the solution to violent crime lies in greater investments in our communities and in non-police switches, we need to have adequate staff in our police department to ensure that we can remain compliant. measure Z and increase our abysmal rank rate, ”Thao said. .

The city administration estimates that the two academies will train 30 officers each, although even reaching that number of recruits has been a struggle in the past. Police officials said they are working to reach more people in their recruiting efforts by strengthening their contacts with local colleges, among others.

Combined with an estimated monthly attrition of around eight officers per starting month, the city administration estimates there will be around 734 sworn officers by the end of the two-year budget cycle in the summer of 2023.

The total cost of academies and recruiting efforts over the two-year budget cycle is estimated to be around $ 11 million, according to city notes. According to city administrator Ed Reiskin, the city will secure these funds through savings within the police department on previous academy courses being smaller than expected, as well as salary savings from Posts across the city ​​that will not be filled as quickly as expected. It will also use a balance in the city’s equipment fund to pay for things like vehicles that are budgeted for in the general fund, freeing up general funds for police hiring.

At the December 21 council meeting, city council will consider additional recommendations from council member Loren Taylor, including a recommendation to prioritize the hiring of investigative officers, as well as to increase unsworn positions in this team to help solve violent crime. He also calls for strengthening the workforce of Ceasefire, a program that involves a partnership between the police department and community leaders to respond to situations where gun violence may escalate.

And council chairwoman Nikki Fortunato Bas asked the city administrator to report to the council in January on the progress of some policy guidelines adopted earlier this year by the city council, including carrying out an analysis on service calls from the police department; and an independent audit of the police department, which would help inform about how the service is using its resources.

Editor-in-chief Jakob Rodgers contributed reporting.

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