Council president Brunner asks community to support police funding through ballot measure
on December 18, 2009
Amid escalating burglaries and gun violence in North Oakland, City Council President and North Oakland representative Jane Brunner announced last night that a ballot measure is necessary to avoid laying off more than 100 city police.
Brunner addressed an audience of 40 people at a community meeting in the high-ceilinged auditorium of the North Oakland Senior Center. Residents had gathered to discuss issues including a November 30 double shooting near Dorsey’s Locker on Shattuck Avenue, marijuana grow houses, and the difference between robbery and burglary. In addressing her constituents, Brunner delivered a sobering proposition: The city needs more money to finance its police force.
“I hate to be the gloom and doom,” said Brunner, whose office had organized the joint meeting with North Oakland’s various neighborhood crime prevention groups and the Oakland Police Department.
Brunner did not disclose specifics about the measure, like its total full price tag to city taxpayers, but said it would appear on the June 2010 ballot.
With a new fiscal year beginning this summer, Oakland is projecting a deficit of $25 million. The council cut $100 million from its budget last year, laying off more than 100 city employees, freezing vacant positions and imposing furloughs across city programs. One thing it did not touch was the Oakland Police Department.
“I don’t think anyone wants to cut police officers in this city,” Brunner said.
But now the council must trim its budget even further and consider eliminating whole programs—closing libraries and senior centers, for example—or laying off police officers, Brunner said.
Several of those officers were in attendance last night, including Police Captain Anthony Toribio and all of North Oakland’s problem solving officers, who act as liaisons between OPD and the community. Concerned residents attending the meeting last night saw a PowerPoint presentation from OPD crime analyst Marie Mason that outlined some of the city’s perennial crime concerns—including thefts, robberies and homicides. They shared stories of their own brushes with violent and illicit behavior—many of which the police have failed to act on, they said.
A woman who had her window broken by a rock said the police did not answer her queries about arrests in which she had played a role. Another woman who keeps the OPD drug hotline on speed dial said a man often walks up and down her street “waving a gun.” She said her reports to the police and Brunner’s office have thus far gone unanswered.
The great majority of the city’s General Fund—tax revenue generated locally and not earmarked by state and federal mandates—finances the fire and police departments, Brunner said. Eighty-five percent of the city’s non-mandated money, about $400 million this year, goes to these public safety agencies, leaving just $60 million for all other city programs.
By laying off a police officer, it stands to reason that the city would recoup his salary to the General Fund, but Brunner explained that’s not the case. The terms of another voter-approved bond measure, Measure Y, make cost-cutting through police layoffs more complicated.
The council successfully floated Measure Y in 2004, but has been criticized—and the city sued—for the way it has been implemented. In order to recoup money from the police department for the General Fund, the city must lay off all Measure Y officers, Brunner said.
“We have to lay off 64 Measure Y officers to save a cent,” she said. The council is looking at laying off some 124 officers total, she said. How would the council avoid such an undesirable outcome?
“The only way is a public safety bond measure,” Brunner said.
Last night, community members also heard from Toribio that Oakland’s force is so overworked its “case solvability rate” is “poor, very poor.” Approximately 2,100 theft reports and 200 robbery reports across the city go uninvestigated each month, Toribio said. Even those numbers fail to capture the desperation of the crime and enforcement scenario, he said.
“The stats are not accurate,” Toribio said. “We [residents of Oakland] under-report crimes.”
Toribio outlined methods the police department has developed to improve the department’s solvability rate—training patrol officers to investigate, circulating tips about how residents can protect their home against robberies, and improving communication between officers and the community.
The department is overburdened and often cannot respond to residents’ concerns, Toribio said. More than one North Oakland resident last night expressed frustration over a lack of response from the police and even from their neighborhood problem solving officers—cops charged specifically with interacting with neighborhood groups to identify priority concerns.
Toribio said the police department is looking at cutting $7 million from its budget and is approving fewer overtime hours. The council, meanwhile, must decide how to cut $20 million from the $60 million of the General Fund that typically goes to expenses outside the police and fire departments, Brunner said.
“You’d have to cut whole programs,” Brunner said.
If voters don’t approve a new revenue measure in June 2010, and the city keeps its police officers, it could be at the expense of senior centers, libraries parks and median strips, she said, standing beneath a banner that read, “The progress of all through all, under the leadership of the wisest and best.”
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