Oakland police force understaffed, deputy chief confirms
on December 7, 2010
At a press conference held Monday afternoon in the lobby of Oakland’s police headquarters, Deputy Chief Eric Breshears said that the Oakland Police Department is significantly understaffed, a situation he expects to worsen in the new year. The conference followed the publication of a Matier & Ross column in the San Francisco Chronicle earlier that day reporting dire staffing figures.
Breshears began by describing the city’s sheer lack of officers. While Chief Anthony Batts has said that his department needs a minimum of 925 officers to effectively police the city, at present Oakland employs only 669. (The city has never had more than 837 uniformed officers, a number it reached in 2008). City administrator Dan Lindheim has said this figure will likely drop to 637 as early as January, marking the department’s lowest staffing level in 23 years.
Breshears cited layoffs, retirement and injuries as reasons for the shortfall. Last July 80 officers were laid off by the city, and at present about 70 officers are temporarily off duty due to injuries. Another seven injured officers are serving only “light duty.”
He added that in order to comply with Measure BB, which voters passed last month and is supposed to allow a parcel tax created by 2004’s Measure Y to fund the police regardless of its staffing levels, the department will be forced to reassign officers from other divisions to bolster its problem-solving unit. Eleven of these positions will be filled by officers currently in the Criminal Investigations and the Youth and Family Services divisions, which will merge in the coming months.
Batts has also said he would like to assign 420 officers to the department’s relatively large Patrol Division, which is responsible for policing the city’s 35 “beats.” Even after the Measure BB reorganization, which will move officers from other divisions into Patrol, however, the division will have a staff of just 350.
Breshears stressed that despite a lack of officers, most beats are still covered regularly, but he went on to say that “I’m not saying there aren’t open beats; there certainly are.” He said the department may let daytime coverage thin somewhat in order to keep all beats covered at night, when more crime occurs.
Many of the figures Breshears listed only confirmed or slightly corrected those reported by Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross in their Chronicle column, including the total number of active officers, those on injury leave, and the staffing levels Batts would like to reach.
Yet Breshears repeatedly mentioned that even during a year with a shrinking police force, Oakland’s overall crime rate has dropped by 14 percent, and the homicide rate by 21 percent, compared to 2009.
Asked if the department is seeking support for more staffing from the city’s elected officials, Breshears said, “I know the chief [Batts] has been in discussion with the mayor-elect,” Jean Quan, but he mentioned no definite plan to hire new officers.
Image: Deputy Chief Eric Breshears answers reporters’ questions after a brief press conference.
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