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Why Oakland City Hall Attempted Robbery May Not Prove Need for More Police

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If you’re looking for reasons to support a bloated police budget, you may think you got your big ‘gotcha’ moment with Sunday’s story about a security guard stopping an armed robbery of a news crew at Oakland City Hall during an interview with the city’s Department of Violence Prevention head.

On the flip side, people could see the incident as proof that current policing is pretty ineffective and that budget has little to do with that reality. 

According to NBC Bay Area spokesperson Liza Catalan, two armed people approached the television news crew around 3 p.m. during its interview of Guillermo Cespedes and attempted to steal the news camera. What’s been described as a “scuffle” occurred but was stopped when an armed security guard, contracted by the news station, pulled his gun and instructed the suspects to leave.

And it worked. The robbers ran away without the camera and the security guard did not discharge his weapon. Everybody left the scene rattled but uninjured.

The Oakland Police Officers’ Association wasted little time posting the SF Chronicle story on its Facebook page and the comments quickly poured in about ‘oh, the irony.’

But is it ironic? Or does the incident highlight the point City Council is actually trying to make?

Swearing in new officers to Oakland Police Department in 2013. Photo courtesy of SFGate

Two things need to be cleared up. 

First, the 2021-23 OPD budget is not being “cut” — they simply did not get everything they asked for. The 2019-21 police budget came in at $665 million and the upcoming budget, even with the $18 million to alternative violence prevention, is set at $674 million. Basic math tells you the budget is mildly increasing.

Second, funds being shifted to the city’s Department of Violence Prevention will be used primarily to establish new Mobile Crisis Response (MACRO) teams that will specialize in mental and behavioral crises. According to Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, a large portion of Oakland’s 911 calls are non-criminal issues. The MACRO teams would take a load off police need to respond in non-violent situations and leave them more resources to answer calls they’re better equipped to handle. 

Where some people claim the City Hall incident proves a need for more police officers, others see it as proof that officers are overwhelmed with non-criminal calls. If they weren’t so busy responding to incidents they aren’t well trained to deal with, they may have been able to better patrol the City Hall area on a Sunday afternoon, and maybe the security guard wouldn’t have had to step in. 

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.