OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- Oakland's mayor unveiled a plan Friday to reduce violence across the city by spending more money to fill vacant police officer positions.
Mayor Libby Schaaf said filling the vacant positions would bring the department's staffing back above 730 officers.
"Oakland continues to advance a holistic approach to public safety that starts with prevention and intervention," Schaaf said on a Zoom call with reporters on Friday. "But it does include focused policing and enforcement and our staffing levels are at a crisis point right now."
Schaaf acknowledged her plan was coming out the same day Oakland had its 129th homicide of the year. The $5.8 million in spending she is proposing would cover the cost of 60 officers, positions that are vacant, and includes 20 positions that are currently frozen by the city.
"The fact that Oakland is investing in more police, that officers know that help is on the way and that their service is valued," she said.
The money would help cover the cost of more police training academies into 2023 so officers could eventually get out on patrol. Other city leaders have suggested a signing bonus for lateral moves by officers at other departments. They argue this would get more police out in the community sooner.
"This is a public emergency right now that we are currently going through, and it truly does feel like every day we are experiencing a new senseless tragedy," said District 4 councilmember and mayoral candidate Sheng Thao.
The $50,000 bonus would be paid out over time, requiring officers to serve five years with the department to collect the full amount. Thao said these new hires would still get training to understand the culture and concerns unique to Oakland but would not need as much preparation as rookies from the academy.
"They will go through training, of course, they're going to go through the training of the rules of the laws and the policies Oaklanders must follow," Thao told KPIX 5 Friday. "They're going to go into the community and meet the community and learn the community before they are put out onto patrol by themselves."
Cat Brooks, executive director of the Justice Teams Network and co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, does not believe hiring more officers is what Oakland needs at the moment.
"We can't make the same mistakes we made in the past. We cannot throw more good money after failed policy solutions," she said in a statement. "The people of Oakland came out in tens of thousands last year to demand the City of Oakland reinvest our tax dollars into programs that will actually keep us safe, not over-police Black and Brown communities."
The money would be better spent on violence prevention, mental health services, and housing; according to Brooks. City leaders say this money for hiring officers would not take away from the other work they are doing in prevention.
"None of these programs work in a vacuum, they are all complementary to each other," Thao said. "We definitely need more investment in violence prevention, because preventing crimes is what we want to do."
Thao said she welcomes the idea of filling those vacant positions for the police department, she says she had called for similar action earlier this year. The mayor says she is open to new ideas like signing bonuses but worries about the history of moving officers laterally from other departments.
"My concern however is that we are attracting officers to policing in Oakland for the right reasons," Schaaf said. "We cannot compromise our values or the level of quality as we recruit officers."
The mayor says the city council will consider her proposal at a special public safety meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 10:30 a.m. Thao says her proposal could be reviewed by the council as early as next week.
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