by Sam Levin
In January, we reported on an ongoing controversy at Oakland Animal Services (OAS), the city-run shelter, surrounding allegations of chronic understaffing and an overall lack of adequate resources. Since then, critical news coverage of the shelter has not stopped — and yesterday two Oakland City Council members proposed a reform of the city's shelter system that they say could address some of these problems: that is, to move Oakland Animal Services from its current management within the Oakland Police Department and instead establish civilian staff oversight.
Officials have discussed a possible restructuring for some time now, with the outgoing interim director of the shelter telling me last year that the city was exploring a range of possibilities including moving the shelter to another department, letting a nonprofit take over OAS, having the director report to someone other than the chief of police, or splitting the rescue and enforcement portions into different entities.
The legislation proposed yesterday comes from City Council President Pro Tem Rebecca Kaplan and Councilmember Noel Gallo; they're also asking the city administrator to provide a report and recommendations on which division should take over management of the shelter.
“We need to let our police focus on fighting crime,” Kaplan said in a statement. “The Oakland Police Department is severely understaffed, and reducing violent crime must be its top priority. Other personnel could do a great job of running the shelter.”
The councilmembers also called on the city to fill vacant positions and to form an advisory committee to help facilitate communication between the city and community organizations; there are a number of very active volunteer groups that work extensively with OAS and are dedicated to animal welfare issues. The legislation also calls for an examination of partnership opportunities with local organizations and other municipalities and includes a request for a timeline to fill the vacant OAS positions, including shelter director, shelter manager, and rescue coordinator.
Kaplan and Gallo have requested that their legislation be heard by the council's public safety committee on May 27.
One of the central concerns surrounding understaffing, which the councilmembers cited in a press release yesterday, is that the ongoing lack of resources forces the shelter to euthanize animals when it is not necessary. This was the focus of a recent KTVU story and is an issue animal advocates are discussing on a Save Oakland's Animal Shelter Animals Facebook page, which includes recent allegations of an unnecessary death at the shelter. It appears that residents are also planning a rally in advance of next Tuesday's city council meeting. (The outgoing interim director told me last year that euthanasia rates overall have gone down).
Oakland Police Lt. Chris Mufarreh, the city's interim animal services director, referred me to OPD's media unit, and a police spokesperson there told me that the city administrator's office would handle this inquiry. An official with that office did not immediately respond to my request for comment.
Here's the full legislation announcement from Kaplan's office, sent out yesterday:
OAKLAND, CA — Oakland City Council President Pro Tem Rebecca Kaplan (At Large) and Councilmember Noel Gallo (District 5) introduced legislation Tuesday afternoon that would reform the way Oakland manages its animal shelter.
Kaplan and Gallo are proposing that the shelter, which is currently managed by the Oakland Police Department, be overseen instead by civilian staff.
“We need to let our police focus on fighting crime,” Kaplan said. “The Oakland Police Department is severely understaffed, and reducing violent crime must be its top priority. Other personnel could do a great job of running the shelter.”
The pair of councilmembers introduced the legislation following reports of unstable leadership of the shelter and that short-staffing led to the unnecessary death of animals. They’re asking the City Administrator to provide a report — and recommended action — on which division should take over management of the shelter, which has been plagued by staffing challenges.
It also calls for the Administration to fill vacant positions and for heightened engagement between the city and community groups — including the formation of an advisory committee.
Kaplan and Gallo are requesting that their legislation be heard by the City Council Committee on Public Safety in May.
Update, 2 p.m.: Karen Boyd of the city administrator's office responded to my inquiry in an email, saying: "In response to Council direction we will be bringing a staff report to Council in June with recommendations about staffing, funding for additional staff needed to address the issues at OAS and a proposal for restructuring the reporting relationship for OAS. I believe the item will be brought to the Rules Committee tomorrow by Councilmembers Gallo and Kaplan."