Despite calls for defunding the police, the Oakland Police Department’s budget has grown nearly 18% since 2019, I-Team found.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) — Despite years of widespread calls to defund the police, the Oakland Police Department’s budget has grown nearly 18% since pre-pandemic. City council leaders are raising questions about how it is being spent.

According to an analysis of ABC-owned television stations of more than 100 city and county budgets nationwide, local police spending has increased in 90% of locations since 2019. Of the three police departments that we looked at in the Bay Area, Oakland saw the biggest increase, despite promises from city leaders to do the exact opposite.

Analysis of ABC7 data found that the OPD budget increased by 17.9% from 2019 to 2022, compared to a 17.6% increase in the San Jose Police Department budget and an increase of 4.4% of the San Francisco Police Department’s budget, although the SFPD saw a larger increase in the fiscal year. 2019-2020 before the reduction in the budget for the next two fiscal years.

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In a live interview with ABC7 News on June 10, 2020, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said the OPD would see the biggest funding cut in the 2021 budget.

“We need to invest in more non-law enforcement security methods,” Mayor Schaff said in the interview.

But the reality is that it never happened.

Data analyzed by ABC7 News’ I-Team revealed that the budget increased by more than $11.4 million that year.

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Fast forward to a year later, city leaders celebrated what they called a “historic vote” to defund the police. In June 2021, the Oakland City Council voted to cut nearly $20 million from its police force for other programs to help prevent crime and address mental illness. But the headline at the time didn’t tell the whole story.

Although these cuts took place, the I-Team found that the OPD budget still increased by more than $5.7 million in the following fiscal year 2021-2022.

“It’s a reflection on being deaf,” said Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti-Police Terror Project. “We had the longest fundraising campaign in Oakland in the country. We’ve been saying for years to get the money out.”

Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo says his money hasn’t been wisely spent as the department faces a staff shortage.

“We didn’t fund the police,” Gallo said. “The money is in the budget.”

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Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said the department currently has 680 officers, but plans are to have 726.

“The reality is, in the past, I used to forecast 782 agents for several years, but they never even came close to that number,” Gallo said.

Councilman Gallo says that instead of hiring more officers, the department went well overtime. Gallo says $5 million to $10 million was allocated for overtime pay in the last fiscal year budget, but $30 million was spent.

“Some officers were making $400,000 a year,” Gallo said.

But Chief Armstrong says that’s the reality – budget cuts have forced him to cut 68 positions.

“Overtime is extremely important when you’re short-staffed,” Armstrong said.

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Stephanie: “Don’t you think the money could be better spent in terms of reallocating funds to hire more officers instead of spending it on overtime?”

Noel Gallo“The reality is this. Let’s stop telling the police department…because I meet with them every week.”

We didn’t get a straight answer, but Gallo made the point.

Noel Gallo: “It is the responsibility of the Chief of Police to assign officers to all departments that need to be addressed.”

Yet records reviewed by the I-Team show that several key positions in the department have been cut due to budget constraints. For example, 48 officer positions that were assigned to the 911 emergency response unit to help “reduce high wait times and reduce overtime usage” have been frozen. Four other positions in the human resources division that would have helped process things like hiring applications have also been frozen. These two resources would have helped the department to solve these problems.

We asked the chief why these units were cut.

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“The chief doesn’t have the power to cut positions, those are all city council decisions,” Armstrong said.

So we went back to Councilman Gallo.

Stephanie: “Is it true?”

Noel Gallo: “Not true. 911 has always been a priority. And this council has gone to great lengths to ensure that we are fully staffed and that the police have to provide us with a monthly personnel report.”

Stephanie: “So where’s the disconnect here? The chief on the one hand says he was forced to ax all those positions – 68 of them. And you say, no, the board fully staffed them. What if has it passed?”

Noel Gallo: “Well, the money is there…I don’t supervise the chief of police.”

“Politicians are good with their words, aren’t they?” said Brooks. “Because the numbers speak for themselves.”

Gallo criticizes the quality of leadership within the department.

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“I’ve been on the council for nine years, I’ve had 11 police chiefs,” he said. “Oakland needs to do better.”

But Chief Armstrong says he is doing the best he can with the resources they have.

“You are being asked to confront the gun violence that happens every day in the streets, we are being asked to do a lot,” he said. “And we happen to do some of it overtime.”

While the OPD’s budget has seen a huge increase since 2019, proponents of the reform tell I-Team that the city’s community response programs created to help respond to mental health calls have still struggling to get the funding to operate 24/7.

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