Oakland Poised to Fill Police Officer Vacancies With Help of Hiring Incentives

City Council will vote on an emergency action offering $50,000 hiring bonuses to veterans from other departments

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Oakland city leaders on Tuesday are expected to take emergency action to combat the recent spike in violent crime, with a vote on incentives to lure new police officers.

Mayor Libby Schaaf and City Council members aim to immediately fill 60 officer vacancies in the Oakland Police Department, but not with rookies from the police academy; with veterans from other departments.

To entice those officers, the City Council will vote on offering a $50,000 hiring bonus.

The department has a decade-low 676 sworn officers, which is in violation of voter-approved Measure Z requiring at least 678 officers at all times.

The emergency proposal comes in response to recent mob robberies of retail stores and as the city just recorded its 129th homicide of the year, putting Oakland on track to finish its deadliest year in nearly a decade. The homicides include the death of man trying to stop a car break-in and a retired police officer, Kevin Nishita, who was guarding a local television crew.

Councilmember Sheng Thao, who proposed the emergency measure, says the additional officers are needed on the streets as soon as possible. To accomplish that, she also has proposed the city hire an independent recruiting firm, "who will partner with the city in a nationwide search for talented, committed and community focused patrol officers with diverse backgrounds and no history of misconduct."

"And I want to be very clear that these potential candidates, they will need to go through several interviews," Thao added. "We need to make sure their values align with Oakland's values as well."

The City Council also will vote on $20,000 bonuses to entice Oakland residents to enroll in the police academy.

In an email Monday night, Schaaf wrote that the the proposed increase to police services will not impact other services, including the historic investments just made in the Department of Violence Prevention.

The emergency action comes as an advocacy group, the Anti Police-Terror Project, cited a report Monday that the Oakland Police Department is not focused on violent crime but is wasting time on noncriminal and nonviolent issues.

The report, based on data from the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force and the OPD Budget/Staffing Workgroup, says by eliminating the Police Department's responsibility for animal control, blight, welfare checks, general inquiries, mental health, and traffic, the department would free up more than 60 officers.

The group was expected to hold a protest against the city's emergency action Tuesday morning.

Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong late Monday released a statement in response to the report:

"It saddens me, that nowhere in this report does it mention the 129 victims of homicides, the nearly 600 shootings, the nearly 2,500 robberies, or the nearly 500 car-jackings that have occurred this year. Violent armed roving caravans have terrorized our community, targeting our pharmacies and businesses, especially the marijuana dispensaries. Also, our residents, visitors and businesses are sometimes left waiting nearly a day because there are few officers to respond to community emergencies.

"I question why the organization would author a report that continues to use divisive tactics. A reduction in sworn officers does not make Oakland safer. Clearly, staffing at the Oakland Police Department has drastically decreased in the last 12 months. In December of 2020, we had 740 sworn officers, currently there are 676, which is below the voter backed Measure Z requirement of 678 sworn officers.

"Whether you support law enforcement or not, I hope we all can have productive conversations about solutions rather than constant attacks and inaccurate data. We all should be Standing Up for a Safer Oakland, instead of anti-police rhetoric."

The Oakland City Council was scheduled to meet at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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