A councilmember in Oakland is getting heat from people on both sides of the “defund police” movement.
Earlier this summer, Councilmember Sheng Thao voted against adding more police academies, which would have increased the number of police officers on the street.
But with violent crimes going up and the number of police officers on the force going down, Thao is now calling for more police academies.
Number 678 is important for the Oakland Police Department.
If Oakland’s police force falls below that number, that means the city can no longer collect millions of taxpayer dollars meant for the police department and the fire department.
And this number is the big reason why Thao says she’s now calling for more police academies. “This is not a 180 from what happened at the council meeting,” she said.
But others don’t see it that way. Back in June, Thao voted for a $3.8 billion dollar budget that kept OPD’s police academies capped at four. Mayor Libby Schaaf wanted six, but councilmembers and activists lobbying for a decrease in police spending shot her proposal down. Fast-forward to Tuesday, Councilmember Thao wants the council to approve a 5th police academy this year and another one in 2022.
“All of a sudden, uh oh. Now I support more academies?” said Barry Donelan of the police department. “This is classic stick your finger in the air and see which way the wind is blowing.
Activist Cat Brooks who leads the Anti-Police Terror Network was surprised when she saw Thao’s newsletter in her inbox.
“I was stunned that someone that we consider an ally, and someone I respect, I want to be really clear, I respect Councilmember Thao, didn’t reach out to us,”said Brooks.
Thao says she was never against adding more police academies. She wanted to give Chief LeRonne Armstrong more time to improve OPD’s recruitment efforts, specifically enlisting Oakland residents to join the force. Now that he’s proved his leadership, Thao says it’s time to give the Chief another police academy to help fill more than 30 vacant positions.
“I am very optimistic about that. And I know that the chief, Chief Armstrong who was born and raised in Oakland, he can do that job,” she said.
“We don’t need more police academies, we need more preventative strategies so that we’re getting to the root of things that cause crime,” said Brooks.
The question now is – how soon will OPD reach the money-losing threshold? A spokesperson says the department currently has 695 officers.
“I would anticipate by mid to late October, we’ll fall below those numbers,” said Donelan.