Further "Defund OPD" Proposals Fail as "Taskforce" Moves Forward

The highly anticipated attempt to further defund the Oakland Police Department after June’s mid-cycle budget process ended in failure at Tuesday’s Oakland City Council meeting. Separate budget amendment proposals by factions of the City’s progressive Council roster both failed, leaving most of the original mid-cycle budget updates passed on June 23 by the so-called “Equity Caucus” budget intact. 

Two ostensible OPD policy changes that set the stage for Council President Rebecca Kaplan and Council Member Nikki Fortunato Bas proposed budget amendments passed earlier in the ten hour meeting, but didn’t sway enough members of Council to accept the transfers and cuts that Bas and Kaplan based on them. 

Aftermath of Aftermath

The lead up to yesterday’s confrontation began shortly after the mid-cycle budget amendments passed in late June. The mid-cycle budget amendment process is usually a dry affair with minor cuts or additions intended to balance the ongoing two-year budget allocation—often based on greater or lesser levels of revenue than estimated in the previous year. But the mid-cycle process took on greater importance this year due to its proximity to the George Floyd protests throughout the nation this year and especially in Oakland, where indiscriminate police violence against protesters created a gigantic backlash against City government and the police. 

The backlash energy found a quick route to the City budget process through the Anti-Police Terror Project’s years-long campaign to “defund” the police and transfer funds to social programs and alternatives to policing—the infusion gave the project a greatly improved chance to alter the calculus of police funding. 

At the mid-cycle budget meeting on June 23, however, conservative voices at the Council branding themselves the “Equity Caucus” successfully used Council procedures to frustrate the call for defunding the police. The subsequent “Equity Caucus” budget largely skirted the OPD funding issue, and obscured the move with CARES act largess, funding for an alternative to policing pilot, and a promise to create a taskforce to study the idea of transferring police dollars. The Caucus' only significant change to OPD funding was the staggering of police academies that would result in a temporary savings of 2.5 million. Kaplan went in on the vote to advance her budget directives, which included throttling overtime.

Car caravan protests targeted the homes of most of the "Equity Caucus" council members the following weekend, with a demand to re-open the budget process—an ask that could be contemplated with new budget line item amendments. Kaplan, who was the deciding vote for the EQ budget on the 23rd, however, appeared at a press conference with community groups shortly before the caravan. Kaplan pledged to do what she could to re-introduce defunding proposals at the 7/21 meeting. Bas joined the pledge. The two subsequently scheduled the budget amendment items.

Defunding Redux

After a significant back and forth about the specifics of CARES Act allocations—which was bifurcated as a separate vote from other amendments—the 7/21 budget deliberation moved on to the Bas/Kaplan proposals to amend the budget. The Bas/Kaplan proposal rested on a platform of freezing unspecified vacant sworn positions, banning arrests of bicyclists and pedestrians for traffic violations, and transferring events management and permitting out of OPD—the cuts would have amounted to another $11.3 million from OPD if passed. 

"Equity Caucus" CM Loren Taylor argued that the proposed savings from a moratorium on bicycle and pedestrian arrests and the shift of events permitting and policing to other agencies were vague and could therefore not serve as the basis for fund transfers. Taylor criticized the amendments, saying “I’m struggling to see what’s real that can be allocated.” Both Kaplan and Bas shook off the criticisms—Bas moved the proposal, and Kaplan seconded. 

In the first of several Kayfabe-esque reveals, CM Noel Gallo asked Interim Police Chief Susan Manheimer to opine on the proposed cuts in both defund versions. Manheimer appeared on the screen with a Powerpoint presentation at the ready, helmed by her staffer Virginia Gleason. The Powerpoint showed a series of areas of law enforcement and asked Council members to specify which programs and activities they would like to cut. Manheimer—and later, Reiskin—argued that Council people would need to bring specific requests on what program needed to be cut or be dialed back. 

The Kalb/Thao Substitute Motion

The vote was delayed by CM Sheng Thao’s substitute motion putting forth the Kalb/Thao “defund” amendments. Kalb and Thao’s proposal had similar but more conservative cuts and transfers than the Bas/Kaplan version. The Kalb/Thao amendments would freeze 4 sworn police roles, cut more OPD operational costs, and mirror other cuts suggested in the Bas/Kaplan proposal on events permitting and policing. The Kalb/Thao plan also relied on civilianizing OPD’s public information office and its abandoned auto unit and transferring them wholly out of OPD. 

Under Council’s rules, a substitute motion is heard before the original motion—and the original motion is only heard if the substitute motion fails. Though Reid “called the question” asking the Council to move directly to vote on the item, City Administrator Ed Reiskin asked to be heard before the vote. Reiskin asked Kalb and Thao to “identify...what police department services would be reduced or eliminated” in the Kalb/Thao plan. Thao suggested that it was up to the Chief and City Administrator to create the options. Dan Kalb agreed, and suggested that it was a department head’s role to do what they could with the budget they are given, and that it should be Manheimer who decides “where to direct their officers.”

Despite the fact that Kalb had upstaged their proposal, Bas and Kaplan both voted for the Kalb/Thao plan. Notably, CM Lynette Gibson-McElhaney seemed to indicate that she was voting against the proposal, submitted 24 hours earlier, because other members of the Council “had led the public to believe that the "Equity Caucus" had done something illegal and immoral” by proposing their budget on short notice on 6/23. The rest of the “Equity Caucus” voted no, creating a tie. The tie, under Council rules, could only be broken by the Mayor. 

Schaaf Appears

Mayor Libby Schaaf rarely attends Council meetings and in the past its been difficult to locate her for a timely tie-breaker. At one Council meeting last year, it took the Mayor hours after a tie-vote had been logged to arrive and break the tie. But in a curious bit of luck, Schaaf happened to be on the Council Zoom meeting Tuesday night and made her presence known moments after the vote deadlocked. 

Schaaf had already lodged her complaints against any OPD cuts earlier in the day when she sent out an email warning residents about Bas/Kaplan’s “dangerous and irresponsible” budget proposals. Schaaf put forth a questionable claim—that the Council had already “cut” over 14 million from the budget on June 23. This claim has appeared in several media accounts—but almost surely comes from Schaaf in all cases.  

In what appeared to be a prepared three-minute speech Schaaf repeated the questionable 14 million figure, commended the "Equity Caucus" budget and claimed that any further cuts to the OPD budget would require service cuts to community needs “from a well-documented under-staffed police force.” Schaaf vaguely referred to the Kalb/Thao and Bas/Kaplan proposals as efforts designed to “mislead the public about the impact of the cuts and whether or not they can actually be accomplished.” After her remarks, Schaaf broke the tie against the Kalb/Thao budget by voting no. 

The Phantom “14 Million in OPD Cuts”

No source that makes the 14 million cuts claim has provided the data—apparently because Schaaf’s number is unverifiable. A line-item review of the budget passed on 6/23/20 shows no more than 11 to 12 million dollars shifted in police allocations, and much of that was not in the form of cuts. What “cuts” were made, were actually freezes of vacant civilian OPD positions that the City Administration came into the negotiations with in May—the sacrifice that the City Administrator used to show that the OPD was doing its part during the historic Covid-19 budget deficit [eventually 2.5 million after another downward revision of revenue]. 

After weeks of George Floyd protests, the City Administrator came back with more “freezes”, this time of sworn positions, which gave the appearance of shifting roles out of the police department. In fact, these were mostly one to one exchanges that “civilianized” existing roles that would remain either under OPD control in Internal Affairs, Public Information and the like; or in other City agencies, such as crossing guards in the DOT. Four sworn traffic enforcement positions were frozen to fund the MACROs program, probably the only significant OPD to civilian transfer [about 1 million].

Some more cuts were simply trimming the fat on overhead, things like reducing rental car and travel outlays [about 600k]. And Schaaf’s math likely includes the release of a proposed use of Measure Q money to fund police—a request that was never allocated, seemed doomed from the start and could not survive the greater scrutiny in the post-Floyd moment. The "Equity Caucus" proposal ostensibly adds another 2.5 million temporarily, by delaying a police academy. Depending on what you include, no more than $4-6 million was actually cut from OPD in any kind of substantive way.

Bas/Kaplan Budget Fails

The Bas/Kaplan budget faced stronger opposition. Kalb argued that there was much in the proposal he supported, but he would abstain as a middle ground. “The numbers don’t fully add up,” Kalb said, and added, “..and I know its not going to pass anyway.” Thao also abstained with little pre-amble. As expected, the members of the “Equity Caucus” voted against the proposal. 

The Taskforce, Events, Bicycling and Pedestrians

The Council also a proposed Taskforce on “Reimagining Public Safety” for consideration at the July 28 Council meeting. Both Bas/Kaplan’s policy directives from 6/23 and the EQ had similar proposals for a 9 month to year process of identifying and suggesting cuts for the 2021 budget process on the June 23 vote—EQ’s was significantly more vague in its approach when it passed as a policy directive. Over the course of subsequent meetings, Bas agreed to co-sponsor legislation with Loren Taylor for the taskforce, and provide her own policy input. 

Its unclear what kind of structure and process will finally be presented at the July 28 meeting, because the proposed legislation doesn’t currently include any language. Bas and Taylor presented a very detailed Powerpoint presentation that suggests a Council nomination process overseen by Bas and Taylor. Other stakeholders would be invited in through an unspecified process. 

The legislative proposal requests 100k to hire a consultant on community engagement for the process and includes the participation of the City's public safety nominated boards and commissions—such as the Police Commisson. The proscripted timeline seems rigid—the membership will be constituted by September, and recommendations made by March, according to the resolution language. The stated goal of the taskforce in the resolution is to reduce OPD funding by 50%.

At one point, McElhaney complained about public efforts to label “heroes and villains” on the Council—she suggested that all the Council members be placed as co-authors of the Taskforce proposal. Given the unanimous support for the taskforce proposal, its expected to pass on July 28, with a timeline that may see it convening as early as September. 

The events and bicycle/pedestrian legislation that passed were posed in the form of requests, not directions. The passed events legislation requests the City Administrator return to Council at some point with amendments to Oakland law that would move special events permitting and that the office designate other agencies to handle street closures for “parades, festivals and similar events.” But no time limit is put on the request, nor requirements made of the legal changes. The bicycling/pedestrian resolution also “requests” OPD adopt an interim moratorium on arresting bicyclists and pedestrians for any “non-violent” traffic related violation, as well as a report on stops, outcomes and demographics of the stops. Neither resolution is binding, nor requires action. 

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