Will the Mayor’s Proposed Budget Rebuild Oakland’s Police Department?

On Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 1:30 p.m. at St. Paul’s Church, 114 Montecito, Make Oakland Better Now! will sponsor a public forum, “Can Oakland Afford to Be Safe?,” featuring Chief of Police Howard Jordan, City Administrator Deanna Santana and key staff members to discuss the connection between Oakland’s budget challenges and the need to rebuild the Oakland Police Department. All concerned Oaklanders are urged to attend. Meanwhile, we are beginning our analysis of the mayor’s proposed policy budget and its impact on public safety.

Make Oakland Better Now! is in the process of analyzing the mayor’s proposed policy budget that was released on Wednesday. One element struck us immediately. While this is the first proposed budget to include police academies in years, we question whether those academies will result in the sworn officer increases the mayor has announced. We are concerned that because Oakland needs at least 900 officers, if not more, the goal she posted are being moved and not in the right direction.

The proposed budget assumes that the four academies budgeted for the current and next fiscal years will produce a total of 160 officers. It also assumes that the attrition rate from now until the end of fiscal year 2014-15 will be four officers per month. If these assumptions prove correct, but by our calculation Oakland will actually reach 725 officers in December 2014, dropping down to 701 at the end of this budget period in June 2015:

Academy Yield

This number is nowhere near where we need to be in terms of police staffing.The Alameda County Grand Jury recommended that the City of Oakland increase its sworn officers to a minimum of 1,200. The 2010 Police Resource Optimization System analysis called for a minimum of 86 more patrol officers than we had in 2009 (which would have taken us to 926) and optimally 183 more patrol officers (for a total of 1,013). While the city’s Public Safety Consultant Robert Wasserman has not yet made a staffing recommendation, we suspect that he will also recommend a number of sworn officers much higher than 701. And we would not be surprised if the compliance director does the same thing.

Our first concern is that the goal should not be 697 or 701 or anything close to those numbers. The goal should be, at a minimum, 900 total sworn police officers. No one thinks this is going to be easy, but when the city talks about hard decisions, it should be talking about the decisions necessary to get us to a fully staffed police department, not just adding another 50 or so officers. There should be a great deal of focus on creative solutions to this problem.

Our second concern is the issue of officer attrition. Last fall Chief Jordan projected losing five officers to attrition per month. More recently, the administration has been assuming that a recent downward trend in attrition would continue and projected a rate of losing four officers per month.

If Chief Jordan’s projection is correct, then as of June, 2015 we will be at 674 officers, not 701. And if the yield per academy is 37 (the number from the most recent police academy) or fewer, the number of sworn officers would be even lower.

Our third concern is ensuring that once the officers are hired, the city can afford to retain them over the long-term. After Measure Y passed, some litigation and an immense amount of community pressure, the Dellums administration increased the size of the police force to 837 officers in 2008 – the most in the departments’s history.  That number, a few more than Measure Y required, didn’t last long, tumbling down to fewer than 650 by the end of Dellums’ tenure.

Police staffing and budget graph

A March 22 administration report tells us that the five-year cost of getting to 833 officers will be  $178 million, or an average of more than $35 million per year:

Police sworn staff increase to 833

On top of that, the city projects a total of about $50 million over the same period (or another $10 million per year) for civilian support and supervisory control.

To get to 923 sworn officers,  the projected cost over five years is $225 million, or $45 million per year:

Police sworn staff increase to 933

And the additional cost for support and supervisors is projected to be another $58 million, or an average of about $11.5 million per year.

Clearly Oakland can’t take these numbers at face value. A big part of the discussion needs to be about the cost of policing and what can be done to reduce expenses.  Moreover, in the five year forecast, the administration has listed some 35 examples of possible budget balancing strategies. City government has to look hard at these and many others.

And there are questions that in some ways are bigger than the dollars and cents. Why are these costs so high? Why does Oakland spend so much digging itself out of a hole? Why has the police department attrition rate been so high and what can be done to reduce it? How does the department attrition rate differ from that in other departments and why?  We repeatedly hear that after decades of poor police/ community relations, a decade of the NSA, and years of department shrinkage, morale in the department is terrible. What is the fix? Can it be accomplished?  We look forward to hearing Chief Jordan and our other speakers address this and related questions at the MOBN! forum on April 28.

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13 responses to “Will the Mayor’s Proposed Budget Rebuild Oakland’s Police Department?

  1. I don’t think there is a “fix” given the profound disconnect ongoing in the Council and the Mayor’s office. The “700 cops by 2015” is simply a bone to throw to us Oakland dogs. it’s not serious and it’s not a part of any sort of overall plan. There is no plan. We just received notice that our Problem Solving Officer is changed again, for the third time in a year. And that the command structure in our part of town is again being juggled around.

    Public safety in Oakland and the Police Department itself remain in a very deep mess. You guys are asking the right sorts of questions but I doubt very much whether any one present at your meeting will be able to provide any sort of honest or useful answers.

  2. Will video of the proceedings of the April 28 meeting be made available? If so, where? or how?

    The April 28 meeting can be an excellent step forward; MOBN’s analyses of the proposed budget are insightful and will serve as critical topics for the meeting. The officials presenting at the meeting need to have their feet emphatically “held to the fire” and not be allowed to divert answers to questions with long-winded off-topic political meanderings as is their wont. The Mayor and City Council need to step up and be part of the solution rather than a large part of the problem. A key question asked by MOBN is: Why DOES the City of Oakland devour so much money with such pathetic results? Many studies have shown that Oakland collects and spends more money per capita than any other city in California. Why is that? And where does this money go? How can this city become effective in utilization of resources as have other cities with a similar population profile? We do know that these excessive funds have not been directed to visible improvements in public safety.

    • Kodi – You state, “Many studies have shown that Oakland collects and spends more money per capita than any other city in California.” Can you provide cites to the studies to which you are referring? Thanks.

      • I was intrigued by this statement and have been since searching for such studies. I haven’t found any yet, but I did find this recent post by HuffPo on the 10 Highest Tax Cities in the US. Oakland isn’t on the list. I’m not trying to say we don’t pay a lot of taxes, we do. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/03/high-tax-cities-10-americ_n_2803301.html#slide=2175449

      • Likely Kodi refers primarily to police costs. Which, as Oaktalk says, are high. They result from governmental financial and general management failure. Failure to oversee NSA-mandated police reform increases costs and reduces public safety effectiveness. Failure to develop a public safety plan and to fully support the Police Department lowers morale which increases attrition costs. A 2001 study of police department attrition rates nationally shows that big city department rates are 5%; Oakland’s is twice this. Failure to provide adequate sworn staffing increases costs through mandatory overtime. Oakland’s failure to think long-term by giving an unnecessarily high police pay scale has been devastating. Laying off 80 officers a couple of years ago increased policing costs; new replacements are significantly more expensive than keeping the old staff. Meanwhile crime increases and thus social and economic costs to Oakland grow. The City Administrator fails to implement the civilianized complaint-investigation long-ago approved by the Council, thus failing to garner the cost-savings and increased availability of sworn staff for street duty available there. Oakland has spent $60 million in recent years in settlements for lawsuits against police, which could have been reduced with completed police reform and competent leadership. The list of incompetencies goes on and on.

  3. Your main point about the Mayor’s budget’s failure to adequately budget OPD staffing seems right on target.

    What I don’t follow is your prescription that we have to get creative in paying for a bunch more cops (and civilian support staff/investigators).

    Creative is what got us the Pension Obligation Bonds and the tangentially related Goldman Rate Swaps. Creative is what got 99 Million of questionable borrowings from restricted funds to pay for operating costs. Creative was using Redevelopment money to pay for operations expenses. And creative simply not funding post retirement benefits and delaying capital improvements and putting road rebuilding on an 85 year cycle.

    When we’re facing years of operating deficits according to the Mayor’s own budget people without expanding OPD, and with only paying as we go on the structural obligations, then our options are very simple that we need a combo of : increasing parcel taxes a whole bunch; slash the cost of non police services; and slashing the cost of police services.

    Oakland politicians seem incapable of cutting compensation rates and benefits instead of cutting positions. They’re not real hot on improving efficiency either.

    Hate to say it, but we’ll need one of those “blue ribbon” citizen’s commissions to review and overhaul the compensation of all city positions to bring them into line with the lower Federal compensation levels.

    As for yet another parcel tax, and a really big one this time, that could both cover cost of say 1200 cops and start paying down our long term obligations, that will take getting the support of two likely to vote block:

    Then you got the residents who want more cops but don’t trust that the City will spend the parcel tax as promised; and the residents who don’t want any more cops until the City shows that it can manage the cops so they don’t violate the rights of residents.

    Of course I’m simplifying that, because there are many voters who fall into both camps.

    It does seem that the voters who want spending on social programs and anti violence or anti recidivism programs before spending it on more cops has dropped significantly.

    Get a police chief who can squeeze better performance out of what we have, maybe with hiring a bunch of cheaper civilian support staff and some technology and no consultants.

    Get a police chief who can control OPD, back them up with a Mayor and Council who respect police but aren’t afraid of them, before we try to raise money or cut services to pay for more cops.

    Less creativity and more honesty about the depth of our fiscal problems from our elected officials would help too.

  4. Len ably makes two critical points about (1) Oakland’s profound governmental lack of credibility with so many years of failure to meet NSA requirements and the nearly-complete failure to produce demonstrable results from Measure Y. (2) The related issue of “creative thinking” (which I would call disingenuousness) vs honesty.

    What hasn’t been pointed out is that the work of the new police department manager Thomas Frazier and the Bratton consultancy should provide some long-needed transparency on ongoing internal police department problems and at least a credible framework for improving public safety. The work of these two (groups) of professional have the potential for being game-changers for Oakland. Unfortunately Oakland has needed this sort of work to be completed many years ago.

    Unfortunately we can expect that the Council and the Mayor will expend a large amount of effort in trying to avoid dealing with whatever reality emerges from Frazier’s and Bratton’s work.

    • Actually, almost the same recommendations made in the recent Bratton Report were made six years ago by another consultant. Accountability, effective, cost efficient are the name of the game for OPD.

  5. An email from a member of the audience at the panel reports that Santana and company “presented a ton of budget and police staffing information that took nearly 3/4 of the allotted time. … The long-story-short version is no, we can’t afford to keep Oakland safe with our current budget, although we might be able to with a parcel tax of at minimum around $300.”

    Typical of a City forum in that staff were allowed to filibuster the time away.

    As for the outrageous price for public safety, a real mayor would take note that in 2004, without Measure Y, the City had 739 officers. That is 90 more than than we have now. A real mayor would unwind the mess and increase police staffing.

    • Police staffing was at an all time high of 837 in 2008, murders, rapes, assaults and burglaries were also up from the year before (City-Data.com). Not to say we don’t need more cops, just sayin’ more cops does not necessarily mean less crime. More effective policing, a more efficient police dept. (civilianization) more targeted crime prevention programs, more weekend programs for youth are just as important and possibly more so.

  6. nice post,thanks for share.

  7. Looks like the Council is getting creative again. if rumor is correct, they’ve agreed to consider retreating from their previous resolution that any excess of real estate transfer taxes above a certain amount would first go to pay back borrowings by the General Fund from other funds; and then if there is ever anything left over, for that excess to pay down the long term obligations.

    Deja vu 2003/2004 when the last real estate bubble pushed transfer tax revenue to new heights and the Council spent every last nickle on raises and programs. Didn’t set aside anything toward the completely unfunded medical insurance benefits for past and current retirees.

    Schaaf and Kernaghan seem to be the only ones who understand that this latest real estate bubble is our first chance to fix the fiscal mistakes we made in the past.

    The resolution as it stands is a weak but important first step to stop kicking the fiscal can down the road. i

  8. Pingback: City Council to Consider Adopting Budget and Amendments Tonight | OakTalk

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