Religious leaders address police funding measures at Oakland City Hall
on October 13, 2010
Parishioners from local churches claimed the seats, back walls and aisles of the chamber room at Oakland City Hall Tuesday evening. Podium turned pulpit as parish leaders stepped up to plead that the city’s Public Safety Committee restore police positions after 80 officers were laid off this summer and to prevent future layoffs.
“We are here to demand that you go back to the negotiating table. We need the officers, but we don’t have the money,” Bishop Frank Pinkard of Mosswood’s Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church said to the committee, while standing with representatives from four other faith-based organizations including the Men of Valor Academy and the Allen Temple Baptist Church.
The statements came amidst citywide discussion of funding problems for Oakland’s police force. Historically, Oakland police officers have not contributed to their pension plans and were able to retire with full pay at age 50. But this summer the city laid off 80 officers and announced it could only guarantee police officers still on the force one-year job security. The Oakland Police Officers’ Association voted in August to start contributing more to their pension plans starting in 2011, with the rate rising to 9 percent in 2013, if voters pass the Measure X parcel tax in the upcoming election. In return, the city would guarantee no officer layoffs for three years.
At Tuesday’s meeting, mayoral candidate and committee member Jean Quan said that paying for the police department takes up 40 percent of the city’s budget, and that Oakland police officers are the highest paid in the nation. She expressed concerns that if officers do not pay into their pension plans, then cuts would have to be made elsewhere. “The idea of peace and safety in this town has to be a balance between police officers and activities for our young people,” she said.
The Parks and Recreation Department, Quan warned, could be first on the chopping block, followed by the public libraries—the libraries’ $9 million budget is close to what the proposed police pension plan contributions could save for the city. “We can’t decimate those programs at the price of the police not paying their pension,” Quan said.
Two measures on the Oakland November ballot take different approaches to restoring funding for police officers. Measure X would raise $54 million annually by levying a $360 annual parcel tax, enabling council members to restore the police force to pre-July layoff levels.
Measure BB would restore funding for the 63 neighborhood problem-solving officers laid off in July, as well as support some 60 anti-violence programs previously funded via 2004’s Measure Y, which instituted an $88 annual parcel tax. The city may only receive Measure Y funds if it employs at least 739 sworn police officers, and is currently ineligible to collect those funds because the layoffs have reduced police officer staffing.
Measure BB would allow the city to continue collecting the Measure Y funds without requiring a certain level of officer staffing, although it will not guarantee that there will not be more layoffs, and it is not clear if Measure BB will require the city to rehire all, if any, of the officers laid off earlier this year.
At the podium pastors expressed confusion over some of the details of each measure, but agreed that the city needs some kind of Measure Y amendment. Reverend David Kiteley, pastor of Shiloh Church in the Upper Peralta neighborhood of East Oakland, said he supports Measure X, but isn’t convinced it will be passed. “Another parcel tax will put a burden on residents. Many won’t be able to afford it,” Kiteley said.
“Measure BB is a suitable alternative,” Kiteley continued. “We’re not opposed to one or the other.”
The pastors also expressed empathy for Oakland’s police officers. “We know what its like to work but not be paid what we know we are worth,” said Pinkard, to cheering and applause.
Committee member and city councilmember Patricia Kernighan thanked the religious leaders for their statements, saying, “This is the kind of show of caring and passion for this life and death issue that we need.”
“We are at our pulpits tonight. Our votes count, ” Kiteley told the committee, as parishioners in the audience stood and cheered. “We need to protect the members of our church and our community.”
Following the 45-minute open forum session, Kiteley, Pinkard and other pastors led their congregations out the chamber doors for a prayer vigil outside Oakland City Hall.
Image: “We are here to demand that you go back to the negotiating table,” Bishop Frank Pinkard of Mosswood’s Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church said to the Oakland’s Public Safety Committee Tuesday night, “We need the officers, but we don’t have the money.”
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