(Oakland, CA)—On Friday, February 12th, Oakland’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force (RPSTF) issued the first round of draft recommendations to pave a new path toward holistic and community driven public safety in Oakland. Final public recommendations must be submitted by Sunday, 2/21, following several opportunities for the community to weigh in until the report is submitted to City Council on April 1st. The Oakland Reimagining Public Safety Task Force was created in direct response to significant local demand to redirect monies from the Oakland Police Department to programs, support services and resources that take a holistic view of public safety and focus on addressing the root causes of so-called “crime” rather than relying on militarized policing and a violent, cyclical carceral state. This demand grew as a response to the nationwide uprisings last summer where across the globe, communities came together to demand an end to police terror and violence. The people of Oakland, in the flats and the hills, are committed to investing in services that will actually protect communities as opposed to exasperating harm. The Task Force recommendations are an important first step in achieving that goal. The Defund OPD campaign was launched by the Anti Police-Terror Project six years ago and has since evolved into a coalition comprised of 12 BIPOC-led grassroots organizations* with decades-long roots in Oakland and tens of thousands of active members amongst them. 

The Defund Coalition welcomes this key step and looks forward to continuing our work with  Oaklanders and the Task Force to ensure City Council is provided with the most radical “rational” recommendations that begin the process of liberating Oakland from the weight of a militarized police department and a cyclical carceral state by answering the people’s call to redirect city dollars to programs and practices that address the root causes of so-called crime by investing in people, not police,” said George Galvis, executive director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice

In addition to the 17-person Task Force, hundreds of Advisory Board members have dedicated thousands of collective hours to develop these recommendations.  These volunteers offered their time, energy, passion, innovation, care and commitment to push Oakland into the 21st Century when it comes to public safety and how Oaklanders are seen and treated by the entity whose motto it is to protect and serve. 

This was an immense undertaking and it is clear from the recommendations the Advisory Board members have put forth that they were deeply committed to the process, excited to explore and maximize this incredible political moment and moved with a deep love for Oakland.  We are so grateful for their efforts. They should be celebrated for their work,said Cat Brooks, executive director of the Anti Police-Terror Project and The Justice Teams Network.  

Recommendations Response

While we appreciate the work of all the Advisory Board members, as the co-creators of this process, we stand firm that the purpose of the Task Force was not to strengthen, fix, reform, or rebrand the Oakland Police Department (OPD). Both Oakland and the nation have tried repeatedly to “fix” policing.  We have seen this with attempts at training on implicit and explicit bias, body camera mandates and policy shifts regarding Use of Force requirements toward less lethal weapons; weapons that permanently disabled and killed hundreds of Americans during the 2020 summer uprisings. You cannot fix something that is not broken. Police and policing in this country was born out of the slave trade and the genocide of Indigenous bodies. Their job then was to protect an economic system dependent on the slave labor of Black and Brown bodies and to uphold the tenets of white supremacy that are the foundation of this country.  They continue to do their job. To this end, we were concerned that there were over 40 recommendations in the OPD ORGANIZATION AND CULTURE SECTION. As history and recent events continue to make painfully clear, a “culture shift” is not what is required. The only rationale way forward is to actively divest in policing and invest in the programs and services that are proven to support communities and increase safety. We urge City Council to place less emphasis on these recommendations and the heaviest focus on BUDGET AND DATA, and ALTERNATIVE PROGRAMS, RESPONSES AND INVESTMENTS.

We support recommendations that promote radical reforms that do not reinforce the status quo or the power of the Oakland Police Department but rather push the envelope for radical change such as coming into full compliance with the Negotiated Settlement Agreement after 18 years of failure (Recommendation 7), transferring most of the Internal Affairs Department to the Community Police Review Agency (Recommendation 31) and Ending Qualified Immunity (Recommendation 33).  

“For five years, APTP’s Defund OPD committee has led the call to Defund OPD and invest in the resources and services that actually address and prevent violence. We issued a demand to the city that OPD’s budget be cut by 50% and call on the Task Force to remain true to that commitment and relocate these savings into community programs and police alternatives,” said James Burch, policy director for APTP and The Justice Teams Network. James is a member of the Task Force. “The people of Oakland do not want reforms that will require further resources for policing. This includes recommendations for reforms that would inadvertently require an increase in police funding. The Task Force must prioritize recommendations that resource our community, not law enforcement.” 

Additional recommendations that have the full support of the Defund Police Coalition include:

  • Recommendation 58 Fund/create community hotlines and transfer the 9-1-1 call center out of OPD: This recommendation calls on the city to support Mental Health First (MH First) Oakland, a project of the Anti Police-Terror Project that launched in Oakland in August 2020. MH First is Oakland’s first and only model for non-police response to mental health crises, substance abuse and interpersonal violence. 
  • Recommendation 6 Eliminate or Reduce the Use of OPD’s Helicopter.  In addition to being an incessant annoyance for Oaklanders, the helicopter costs the city $500,000 annually with little to nothing to show in terms of safety outcomes.
  • Recommendation 38 Suspend or transfer the paramilitary BearCat armoured vehicle: We fully support recommendations that demilitarize OPD, including ending the use of weapons and excessive machinery (such as helicopters, bearcats, flashbangs and rubber bullets), that only serve to increase fear and harm within our communities. Data demonstrate that police departments that possess and utilize military-grade equipment have higher incidents of excessive use of force and see the communities they patrol more as enemy combatants rather than residents they are supposed to “protect and serve”.
  • Recommendation 59: We support moving most traffic violations to OakDOT. Police traffic stops remain a leading entry point to violent police interactions for Black and Brown people as these drivers are pulled over at disproportionate rates and suffer disproportionate harm, including incarceration and death, from police engagement. You do not need a badge and a gun to write a speeding ticket.

After extensive review, there are several recommendations that we do not support as they do not move us toward the goal of “reimagining” but simply reinforce the status quo and leave us dependent on a system of policing and prisons that have failed us and our communities since their inception:

  • Recommendation 25 Revising officer requirements for Crisis Intervention Training: Developed in 1988 in Tennessee, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) was initially supposed to be an additional tool for police officers invested in working with people in mental health crisis. Since that time, it has been utilized as a blanket strategy to respond to that population and failed miserably. Upwards of 50% of all people killed by law enforcement are in the middle of a mental health crisis. This is not work law enforcement wants to do nor are they equipped to do it. Being Black or Brown, in a mental health crisis and law enforcement is a deadly cocktail.  We need care and compassion in these situations, not a badge and a gun. Additionally, Task Force recommendations are supposed to redirect resources away from policing and toward community resources, social services and support programs. This includes recommendations for more training. If there are recommendations for extra layers of evaluation or training, these must not be tied to more funding for police.
  • Recommendation 63 Give neighborhoods power to determine the level of roving patrols: Experience demonstrates this recommendation would be a deadly disaster – for BIPOC community members. Data show the only way use of force incidents decrease is if engagement with law enforcement also decreases. We cannot support recommendations that could increase the numbers of law enforcement officers in a community; especially when so many of our neighborhoods already feel like they are swarming with an occupying army.  Additionally, as Oakland continues to gentrify, we have seen multiple examples of white residents utilizing the police as a weapon (BBQ Becky) and endangering the lives of BIPOC community members.  The Task Force should prioritize recommendations that create the largest shifts in how public safety is defined and executed in Oakland – not in recommendations that reinforce the current violent status quo.

The Defund Coalition is excited about the many recommendations presented that offer a real opportunity to shift, reimagine and evolve the way Oakland thinks about and implements public safety.  After five years, the voices of Oaklanders are being heard.  This matters not just for Oakland, but for the country.  For well over a decade, Oakland has been America’s vanguard for criminal justice reform and as we go, so does the nation.  APTP and the Defund Coalition receive weekly calls and emails from organizers in cities across the country for consultation and guidance.  Lives saved in Oakland means lives saved across the nation.

The Defund Coalition will publish an extensive analysis of all of the recommendations by Wednesday, February 24th. 

The deadline for community feedback is Sunday, February 21. We strongly encourage all Oaklanders to submit their feedback before then and to contact their elected representative to say they want police budgets to be reallocated into community programs.


* The Defund OPD Coalition consists of the following groups: Anti Police-Terror Project, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Bay Rising, Black Organizing Project, Causa Justa-Just Cause, Community Ready Corps, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, Critical Resistance, East Bay Alliance for A Sustainable Economy, Ella Baker Center, Oakland Rising, and the Urban Peace Movement.