Ten Strategies to Make Oakland Better: (3) Contract for a Resource Allocation Study for OPD

Ten Strategies to Make Oakland Better

Strategy Three: Contract for a Resource Allocation Study for the Oakland Police Department

Make Oakland Better Now! was established to advocate for public safety, public works, government transparency, accountability and budget Reform. Often, however, we are recognized simply as advocates for increasing the size of the Police Department. While we stand by our position that Oakland desperately needs 925 sworn officers, much more is needed to make Oakland the city its residents want and deserve. This is the third installment in our ten part series on steps Oakland can and should take to make this a better, safer and more sustainable city. For our third strategy, we urge the city to take the steps necessary to make a fact-based determination of how many police officers the city needs.

Many Oaklanders believe the Oakland Police Department is understaffed. A May 7 Survey USA Poll sponsored by KPIX-TV shows 77% agreeing that the City of Oakland has “not enough officers.” Mayor Quan and her election challengers Bryan Parker, Courtney Ruby, Joe Tuman, Libby Schaaf and Dan Siegel have all advocated for increasing the size of the police department, proposing goals of anywhere from 700 to 925 sworn officers. Meanwhile, OPD recently reported sworn staffing of 652, thirty-seven fewer officers than the city employed in July, 2010 after laying off 80 officers!

What is the optimum number of officers for the Oakland Police Department? While nearly everyone agrees the number is higher than 652, there is seemingly no consensus on the correct number or how we get there. As with so many debates in Oakland, this discussion often seems driven by ideology and beliefs rather than facts.

It does not have to be this way. There is a tool available to measure how many officers we need. Use of this tool has been recommended by Oakland’s public safety consultant, and is available at a modest cost.

Professor James McCabe, Ph.D., a Senior Associate with the International City/County Management Association (“ICMA”) Center of Public Safety has studied police deployment in 61 American cities. He observes that there are four commonly used models for assessing staffing needs that don’t work: the per-capita approach (i.e., each city should have X officers per thousand in the population); the crime trends approach (“we have higher crime, so we need more officers”); minimum staffing levels set either by past practice; and the “authorized budget” approach – i.e., “what can we afford?”

Instead of these, Professor McCabe suggests the “60/60 rule” which, if followed, results in the right number of officers:

  • At least 60% of the department’s sworn staffing should be assigned to patrol.
  • No more than 60% of officer time should be spent responding to calls for service. The balance of the time should be spent on problem solving, proactive policing, community involvement, beat-related quality of life issues, and other activity normally considered part of “community policing.”

In his memorandum to the City of Oakland last December, Strategic Policy Partners’ Robert Wasserman recommended that the city undertake a resource deployment study to find out how many officers it needed. We have learned that the ICMA undertakes studies for as little as $50,000. Here is how it works: First, ICMA looks at what percentage of officers are deployed to patrol. That should be an easy determination; it just is not readily publicly available in Oakland now. Then, as ICMA explains, it focuses on

. . .information captured in a department’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. ICMA extracts one year’s worth of CAD calls for service and dispatch data in order to explore demand for police services. The analysis focuses on three main areas: workload, deployment, and response times. These three areas are related almost exclusively to patrol operations, which constitute the most significant portion of nearly any police department’s personnel and financial commitment.

Next, ICMA studies two four-week sample periods. Every 911 call for these two periods is isolated and the total amount of time spent handling each call is calculated. Once these calculations are made, the data is converted into tables and charts that display the demand for police services in hourly increments. Beyond this, ICMA

. . .looks at population, crime, patrol staffing, total number of calls for service, response times, total service time for calls for service, and the 90th percentile response time for calls for service to evaluate department staffing decisions.

The percentage of time devoted to response to calls for service is referred to as the “saturation rate.” When the saturation rate reaches 60% or more, even for part of a shift, officers have no time or resources to do anything but respond to calls or prepare to respond to calls. The department and the public it serves lose the benefit of problem solving by officers, because there is no time.

A police department can reduce its saturation rate by changing the rules on call for services – for example, responding only to calls that need a police officer – or by increasing the number of officers available to respond. This is important for Oakland because of another key Strategic Policy Partners’ recommendation: that the City change  its policy on responding to calls for service so that patrol officers respond to calls only when an officer’s response will make a difference. We have been told that the police department has had a plan to do this ready to roll out for well over a year, but that the administration has failed to authorize the roll-out.

What does all of this mean for Oakland? Three simple steps: call reduction, civilianization and a resource allocation study. The strategy is this: Oakland should first implement the calls for service reduction plan. Then it should maximize civilianization, ensuring that no officers are performing tasks that lower-paid civilians could perform. When these steps have been in place for a reasonable period of time, the city should contract with ICMA for a resource allocation study, and find out once and for all how many police officers Oakland needs. Paying for the increased number of officers will not be easy. But once we know how many officers we need, the city can develop and implement a long-term plan to identify funds for hiring and training. And we will all know what the goal is and why.

Make Oakland Better Now! is an all-volunteer organization, and sometimes it takes us longer to accomplish our goals than we would like. Nonetheless, we are going to try to pick up the pace of our “Ten Strategies to Make Oakland Better Series.” The next installment will be a strategy for ensuring more ethical government. Look for it soon at Oaktalk.com.

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2 responses to “Ten Strategies to Make Oakland Better: (3) Contract for a Resource Allocation Study for OPD

  1. You explain very well what a resource allocation study is and what it should do. Many of us also know something about civilianization–citizens’ groups have been pushing it for over a decade and the Council and Mayor have given some perfunctory buy-in but have not followed through (as usual). You also mention “call reduction” presumably this is some sort of method of reducing the 911 calls for service, but you do not provide any explanation of “call reduction.” An explanation might be helpful.

  2. I should be clearer about my comment above. You do say that “call reduction” can be implemented by sending a cop only when doing so “will make a difference.” Exactly what will “make a difference” needs explanation and exploration. Really! I don’t think this is an easy problem at all to solve.

    In Oakland I suspect we have enough violent crime, something over 20 per day including shootings, muggings, home invasions, etc. that a prompt response to any of these could “make a difference.”

    For example–as it is now many violence-involved crimes are simply not reported because the widespread expectation is that cops cannot arrive in a timely fashion. Thus “making a difference” would include giving citizens sufficient confidence to take the trouble to make a report. In addition some more affluent neighborhoods are busily hiring private security to cover for the expectation that police cannot respond.

    It’s a very complex matter.

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