Oakland votes to reallocate $18 million in funds from Oakland Police Department to mental health services

Scarlet Schwenk

A new age of policing in Oakland, Calif.
By Scarlet Schwenk, MANAGING EDITOR

Oakland City Council voted to reallocate $18 million in funds from the Police Department to fund mental health services on Thursday, June 24.

Of the $18 million, $3.6 million will be redirected to the city’s Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (MACRO) program, a crisis response program within the Oakland Fire Department to address mental health issues.

“This is a historic moment we should mark this day June 24, 2021,” said Nikki Fortunato Bas, Oakland District 2 council member.

The plan, pioneered by local activist groups and city council members amidst a nationwide call to ‘defund the police,’ passed the city council in a 6-2 vote. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Oakland Police Officers Association President Barry Donelan were among those who voted against the proposal, citing concerns about a rise of violent crimes around the city.

“Unfortunately, it 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. It will force our officers to work even more overtime shifts, which are expensive and unsafe for officers and residents alike,” Schaaf said in a statement.
The plan and purpose of defunding the police are not to overwork police officers, but rather to provide mental health services and training to adequately handle non-violent calls where police presence is not needed. Grassroots organizations dedicated to the cause of reforming policing in America garnered mass support from both local activists and community members.
“This historic budget ensures a comprehensive audit of the Oakland Police Department… today, the City Council gave much-needed hope to the organizers, mental health advocates, organizers… and working families across the city working to defund the police and invest in the community,” Anti Police-Terror Project wrote in a Twitter post.

“Today I am here to remind you the youth have been waiting for too long and we want reinvestments right now,” Aniyah Story, Oakland High student, said during the open forum on Thursday.

In the wake of summer 2020’s George Floyd protests, Americans came together to rally around the cause of community safety and holding police accountable for their crimes. ‘Defund the police’ became a focal point within the movement, arguing the need for more mental-health-based services to handle 911 calls not requiring violent intervention.

“Any dollar that is moved away from militarized police to those services, the safer we’ll be and the better off our nation will be,” Lawyer and Anti Racism activist Johnathan Perkins said.

The decision comes after Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff announced a budget proposal in May, calling for the addition of two police academies, outraging the Oakland community with the fear of over-policing, a common issue in communities of color.

Oakland’s MACRO program is a one-year pilot aiming to address the issue of over-policing, especially in regards to the Black community, deploying trained citizens of the community to handle non-violent “quality-of-life calls,” the city wrote in a memorandum. Quality-of-life calls include wellness checks, intoxicated people, disorderly conduct, and non-violent incidents at homeless encampments, the city detailed.
“In 2017, African Americans living in Oakland had the highest emergency department visit rate for both serious mental illness and substance abuse-related visits. African Americans were also far more likely to be homeless than Whites, Asians, or Latinos. Statistically, African Americans are also found to be far more likely to be homeless than Whites, Asians, or Latinos, representing 70% or more of Oakland’s total homeless population, further demonstrating the impact of racial inequities,” the memorandum revealed.
A historic achievement was made in Oakland, setting an example for the future of policing across the nation. Oakland is one of the few cities in America making motions in response to citizens’ demands, the first in the country was Minneapolis, the city where Floyd was murdered.