Jack Newman and Brian Stieglitz, Daily Mail, June 30, 2021
Robbers held up a television crew at gunpoint during an interview with the director of violence prevention in Oakland amid the city’s huge wave of violence, police have said.
The attack took place outside City Hall on Monday just hours after the police chief blasted his city’s decision to defund its police department by $18.5million despite a 90 per cent increase in murders.
The NBC Bay Area news crew was interviewing Guillermo Cespedes at around 3pm when two armed men tried to take their camera, the Oakland Police Department said.
A scuffle broke out and a private security guard who was contracted by the news agency, pulled out a gun and told the robbers to leave.
The suspects fled without the camera and no one was hurt, police said, but the two attempted robbers have not been arrested.
Hours earlier, police chief LeRonne Armstrong decried a decision made by city leaders in a 6-2 vote to divert a proposed $18.5million increase from the Oakland Police Department’s budget over the next two years despite a rise in violent crime and shootings.
He said: ‘I’ll start off today by saying that I’m challenged by the decisions that were made on Thursday around the budget for the City of Oakland particularly for the Oakland Police Department
‘I first want to say that I believe strongly that Mayor (Libby) Shaft put forward a budget that was designed to preserve public safety for the entire city both law enforcement and violence prevention. These are not two separate things
‘We work together we’ve always worked together and the success of this city will not be just law enforcement it won’t be just the Oakland police department
‘It will be the Oakland police department it will be the department of violence prevention and it will be most importantly community
‘But today we find ourselves in a crisis. We find ourselves reeling from a weekend of violence, where we’ve seen four homicides over a three-day period.’
Chief Armstrong added: ‘It now has us currently at 65 homicides for the year. It’s a 90 percent increase compared to last year.
‘Our shootings are up over 70 percent this year. Our robberies are up 11 percent this year – 1300 robberies in this city already this year.
‘Our car-jackings are up nearly 88 percent so we see clearly that crime is out of control in the City of Oakland, and our response was for less police resources
‘But when city council members – the majority of them that voted to defund this police department – that additional 17 million that was reduced from the police department’s budget will have a impact.’
The chief spoke as his law enforcement department’s budget was set at $674 million.
That is about $9million more than the previous year. However, the increase is drastically less than the proposed $27 million from an effort led by Democratic Mayor Libby Schaaf. And last year’s police funding accounted for 20% of the city’s budget, while this year’s budget equates to 18%, according to the Washington Examiner.
Just two weeks ago, multiple women were seen twerking on the top of an ambulance in Lake Merritt in Oakland while paramedics attempted to make their way through to the scene of a shooting in which one person was killed and at least seven others were wounded.
The ambulance was stopped in its tracks by the crowd which was said to be around 1,000-strong as people gathered to celebrate Juneteenth after it was declared a federal holiday.
And last month, Bishop Michael Barber of the Oakland Catholic Diocese was robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight.
‘So we see clearly that crime is out of control in the city of Oakland and our response was for less police resources,’ Chief Armstrong said.
Armstrong said that despite the cuts the department will be adding 60 officers over the next few months, but will lose 65 due to attrition and may require compulsory overtime to make up for it.
He said: ‘When you hear the statement from those that say nothing will change – that is not true. Yes it will. The impact will be immediate with a slower response time to emergency calls for service, the 911 surge units that were used to respond to violent crime . . . will have less resources, less officers responding. That is going to have an impact, it’s going to have a delayed response.’
Armstrong added that the burden will have an even greater detriment on marginalized communities, like deep east Oakland, from where most emergency calls come.
He said he supported the ideas behind many of the proposed measures, but warned residents would suffer due to falling cop numbers while the replacement schemes are implemented.
Still, some lawmakers say the cuts are not enough and wanted a 50 percent decrease, or about $150M, from the police budget.
Councilwoman Nikki Fortunato Bas told ABC7 that the cuts are ‘historic’ and will be used to direct funds to social service agencies and other crisis response groups.
‘We’ll be standing up a program called MACRO for alternative crisis responders, to handle mental health issues,’ she said. ‘We will be having our department of transportation handle issues that police typically handle, blocked driveways, auto tows.’
Over $300,000 taken from the police budget will also go the Youth Employment Program, an advocacy group that aims to keep young people off the streets.
Following the council vote, Mayor Schaaf lauded the council’s intentions of bolstering violence prevention and social services as a means of approaching public safety. However, she warned that the police budget cuts will harm the department and hamper response times.
‘It will force our officers to work even more overtime shifts, which are expensive and unsafe for officers and residents alike,’ she said in a press release, adding that the decision ‘cuts 50 police officers who respond to Oaklanders’ 911 calls and enforce traffic safety. It also cuts much-needed future academies, which will significantly reduce police staffing and delay response to Oaklanders in their time of crisis.’
Armstrong paused and began to tear up as he recalled a scene on Saturday night when a young man died and a woman shouted at him from out a window and said, ‘do something about it.’
‘Without the resources it makes it challenging to make Oakland safe and more families find themselves dealing with trauma find themselves dealing with putting the pieces together,’ he said. ‘When the yellow tape is gone and when the streets are cleaned up there is still hurt.’