Make Oakland Better Now’s Budget Positions: Oakland Police Department


As we analyze Mayor Libby Schaaf’s proposed 2017-2019 budget, we see there are many important issues, some long-term and some short-term. Today we’ll briefly look at long-term budget issues involving the Oakland Police Department, how the budget impacts police and public safety.

Oakland should determine how to increase efficiencies in its Police Department, determine how many officers the city needs, and how to more cost-effectively afford the needed number of quality officers

Make Oakland Better Now wants to see the Oakland Police Department succeed—and that means delivering community-oriented policing and improving public trust through constitutional procedures, while simultaneously fighting serious crime.

This triple mandate is difficult and demanding for any police department. It is even tougher for the OPD, racked with inconsistent leadership and crisis, including the sexual abuse and prostitution scandal last year. The police department has made meaningful reforms, including working towards full achievement in the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, and become a leader in 21st century policing tactics—but the department still needs to make progress. It is arguably the most important challenge facing Oakland.

Safety is a human right, and too many Oaklanders are deprived of this right. Oakland had 87 homicides in 2016, down from 93 in 2015, but continues to be one of the most violent cities—currently the eleventh most dangerous city in the U.S. (with 20.3 homicides per 100,000 residents).1  People in less affluent Oakland neighborhoods are suffering the most violent crimes (assaults, robberies, and homicides). MOBN believes that black lives matter, and we must do more to protect our community and our neighbors, and to prevent violence.

As Professors Aaron Chalfin, University of Chicago Crime Lab and Justin McCrary of UC Berkeley Law argue in “Are U.S. Cities Underpoliced?: Theory and Evidence,” most U.S. cities are substantially under-policed. These experts looked at crime rates and police staffing across many U.S. cities and found that different police staffing sizes tend to be the greatest variable as to how much violent crime occurs.

The Mayor’s proposed 2017-19 budget compares Oakland to other Bay Area cities (such as Fremont, San Leandro, and San Jose) in terms of the percentage of the overall budget spent on police. The percentages are mostly very close.

However, we believe the more important ratio is officers to calls for service. Despite the importance of calls for service data, most cities do not publish theirs. And while Oakland publishes its call for service data daily, we have found no current basis for a comparison between Oakland’s calls and those in other jurisdictions.

However, most people involved in local law enforcement believe that Oakland has a far higher per capita level of calls for service than just about any other city in the United States. If Oakland looked comparatively at the money spent on police per 911 call, or per level of robberies, we’d almost certainly see that Oakland spends far less on police than these neighboring cities.

In her 2015 book Ghettoside, LA Times writer Jill Leovy makes the case that residents of South L.A. and Watts suffer deeply from many unsolved homicides due to a lack of police investigative capacity. Oakland similarly faces too many unsolved homicides and an investigations division where staff have too little time to solve violent crimes.

We applaud the Mayor’s proposed budget for adding a third Police Academy, to begin at the end of FY 2018-19, to add more officers in order to offset attrition. We also applaud OPD’s efforts to continue to hire diverse police officer trainees who reflect the diversity in Oakland, to update the computer dispatch system, and to ensure that all staff are very familiar with procedural justice training. However, OPD needs to have enough overall staff to truly allow everyone to focus on community and trust building —and crime fighting. We need a budget that ensures that OPD has the staff to get the job done.

But this is only the start. We clearly need more than the 800 officers, the Mayor’s stated goal, and we seem unlikely to even reach that number anytime soon. Right now there are 792 sworn officers authorized, but only 754 of the positions were filled as of March 2017, with an additional 27 new trainee officers added this month.

On average six officers leave OPD each month for a variety of reasons. So with three academies over the next 25 months, if each yields 30 trainees and the attrition rate continues at the same level, we may be down to 721 officers by the end of this budget period.

What are the budget issues? The three big ones are attrition rates, training cost and overtime.

We have been told that attrition rates are rising for police departments all over the state. In Oakland, only about 25% of the departures are for reasons other than retirement, disability retirement or termination.

Replacing officers who leave is very expensive. Four years ago, we received documents from a public records request to OPD showing that recruitment, screening, testing, academy training and field training (not including academy trainee and field trainee salaries) cost a total of $5 million, or between  $125,000 and $156,000 per officer. Not surprisingly, we have been told that the cost is higher now.

Thus, we are puzzled by the fact that in the Mayor’s proposed budget, the cost of adding one academy (page G-24) is reported to be $1.5 million. We understand that the Field Training Officer premium ($1.173 million) may be a fixed cost, and we understand that the recruiting and other “pre-academy” costs ($1.12 million) may be fixed as well. But according to the department’s numbers from four years ago, the cost of a single academy alone was $2.726 million, more than a million dollars more than the number appearing in the budget.

If the administration has figured out a way to reduce officer replacement costs by this much, it certainly is entitled to credit for that. But the public is entitled to some explanation of what happened.

We recognize that there is no policy likely to reduce attrition from retirement or disability. And except for taking steps to improve officer morale, we don’t know what needs to be done to reduce attrition for other causes. But we hope OPD is studying the efforts of other departments that have reduced their attrition rates and developing a best practices program. No matter which recruiting and training cost is the accurate one, reducing monthly attrition from 6 to 4 officers per month would save the City anywhere from $1.13 million per year to $3 million, or roughly the annual cost of between six and 15 officers.

1 Based on the FBI’s Universal Crime Reporting standards.

Make Oakland Better Now!

OakTalk Here is the blog of Make Oakland Better Now!, an Oakland community grassroots group of a grass-roots group of voters, volunteers, and policy advocates committed to improving the City of Oakland by focusing on public safety, public works, and responsible budgets. Founded in 2003, we’ve researched, lobbied, and successfully campaigned for a number of new, impactful policies, including the city’s Rainy Day Fund, Measure Z and Operation Ceasefire.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Hobart Johnson

    Too much fuzzy thinking here.

    When homicide rates vary from year to year within the standard deviation, it is not meaningful to talk about a “drop in crime rate.” This is what Oakland pols always do and thus nothing changes.

    Categories for police attrition need to be examined in some detail without the naive assumption that they are inherently meaningful. For example cops can retire as soon as possible if they don’t like their job here and go on to work elsewhere. Similarly for a “disability” retirement.

    MOBN is making an attempt to deal with these long-term challenges in Oakland but it needs to make a stretch to think outside the box. Inequality is far more than simply “Black lives latter.”

    There are brown lives and other lives independent of ethnicity that have to do with economic inequality in Oakland specifically. For example why does the city spend so much money on street improvements in wealthy business districts while poorer ones, ones with a great deal of vitality, like International Blvd. (name changed from E. 14th St. for marketing purposes) contine to deteriorate?

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