Police staff numbers won’t receive boost from Measure BB

Along with other regional departments, officers from the Alameda County Sheriff's department assisted the Oakland Police Department on the night of the Mehserle sentencing.

Along with other regional departments, officers from the Alameda County Sheriff's department assisted the Oakland Police Department on the night of the Mehserle sentencing.

When voters passed Measure BB in November, Oakland residents may have thought they were helping resolve the Oakland Police Department’s funding and staffing woes. But with the new year around the corner and a city budget still in crisis, Oakland officials and residents warn that the effects of the measure’s passage are more complex than that—and could end up causing more harm than good to a city recently ranked the fifth most dangerous in the nation.

In January, residents will receive what they voted for in Measure BB: the restoration of 75 community police officer positions. But in order to do that, Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts has declared, these Problem Solving Officers, or PSOs, will have to be pulled from the steadily decreasing rank-and-file force.

The Youth and Family Services division, which handles sexual assault, child abuse and domestic violence cases, will be one of the units hurt the most. This unit will merge with the Criminal Investigation Division, which handles homicides, robberies, shootings and burglaries. With the merge, 11 officers will be transferred out of the new unit to the patrol division, which will mean some kinds of cases, such as property crimes, will get even less attention than they do now.

“I’ll be clear to you. I do not have enough police officers. Period,” Batts said at a press conference in late November, adding that the city needs at least 925 officers—that’s 255 more than it has now—to provide adequate police coverage.

The passage of Measure BB will not help that officer deficit, and because a separate tax measure failed in the same election, will make certain kinds of patrol staffing even more complicated for the police department.

“Citizens are going to get what they paid for,” Sergeant Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, said in a recent interview. “Measure BB was a good thing to pass to keep minimum officers on the force, but it only works if you have a support system with it. You can’t have one without the other.”

The language of Measure BB declared simply that it amended a previously-adopted violence prevention and public safety act from 2004 called Measure Y. That measure collected taxes specifically for certain “violence prevention” initiatives, including new Problem Solving Officers, PSOs, to be added to each of the city’s policing beats. But Measure Y contained a catch: If police staffing levels went below 739 officers funds, the tax could no longer be collected.

Then in July, citing demands of the budget, the city laid off 80 officers. That brought the police force down from 695 officers to the number it’s at now—669 officers—far below the minimum that Measure Y required.

As a result, the Measure Y tax collection was halted. The department pulled its officers out of the community-policing program, which both residents and business owners said had helped bring down Oakland’s high crime rate. Some of the officers were moved to other high priority units like responding to 911 calls; others were let go all together. After July, 2010, other anti-violence, fire and police programs were paid for through the city’s general fund as a way to keep services deemed vital to the city afloat.

Two measures were placed on the November ballot as attempts to refund the police department. Measure BB, which simply eliminated the threshold requirement so that Measure Y taxes could continue to be collected—a total of $19 million annually—was one of them. It passed with 70.7 percent of the vote. Measure X, the other police funding measure on November’s ballot, lost.  That measure, which would have instituted a $360 per year parcel tax, was rejected by voters 72 to 27 percent.

Now, even with the staffing level requirements removed, OPD Bureau of Field Operations Deputy Chief Eric Breshears stresses that Measure BB will not add more officers to the force. Although it may have temporarily prevented department-wide layoffs, which were set for January had neither Measure BB nor Measure X passed, it does not address the ongoing attrition of police officers.

In addition to the layoff of 80 officers in July, 21 more have retired, 12 have left for other police departments, five have quit and one has been fired—dropping the total number of current officers to 669. At an average of five people leaving monthly, that number could drop much further in the coming months.

Oakland City Administrator Dan Lindheim has said even with Measure BB, there is only enough money to pay for 637 positions in the next year, making it the lowest rank-and-file police force number since 1987.

In fact, because it puts Measure Y back into effect, requiring at least 63 PSOs to return to service, the passage of Measure BB will pull officers from other kinds of law enforcement roles.  The PSOs will have to come from somewhere, and a tight-pocketed OPD does not expect to be hiring anytime soon.

“We are not running academies, and not bringing people back,” Breshears said, adding that many of the PSOs will be transferred from the department’s Bureau of Investigation, where the crime reduction team is housed. The impact, he explained, will mean there will be fewer officers to follow up on investigations and prevent crime.

Batts said PSOs will have the same duties they did before July—dealing with quality of life issues like vandalism, harassment and theft, and will continue to receive their directives from the communities to which they are assigned. The police department has also asked for officers to step and volunteer to fill the PSO positions.

But some neighbors say that shifting PSOs back to the neighborhoods may not be a complete solution to the city’s policing problems. “They may label a couple of officers PSOs—but we don’t have a police force that can handle the luxury of PSOs,” said Nancy Sidebotham, Beat 29X NCPC and Community Policing Advisory Board Chair.

Sidebotham said her past PSO beat officer knew who caused problems in her neighborhood, which is near Mills College. The problem with the PSOs plan, she said, is that because some of the PSOs were laid off in July, the department will now bring new people into new neighborhoods they don’t know.

The department is now considering ways to bring more officers into service, including looking for grant money to pay for officers’ salaries instead of using Measure BB and general fund money. Breshears said at a news briefing on Monday that the department should have a minimum of 420 officers assigned to the patrol division, which would include beat officers, a 75 member problem-solving unit, including supervisors, other specialized units.

Breshears also said OPD plans to increase the number of retired officers brought back to work in various positions at an hourly rate, but not as patrol officers. “I know the chief’s been in discussion with the mayor-elect,” Breshears said about recruiting more officers in the future, “but there are no definite plans to hire new officers.”

Arotzarena said the union believes there is money available to bring officers back because of salary savings. He asserts that millions of dollars have been saved since July, when 80 police officers were laid off. There could be even more savings, he said, since at least a dozen more officers have left recently.

“Measure BB is only going to work if we have more staff,” Arotzarena said, “When a PSO identifies an issue from patrolling or from a resident, they need to bring someone in. Now there’s no support system to help them. It’s a failed system.”

But it may be too late for the city to rehire some laid-off officers—of the 80 officers laid off, 50 percent have already found jobs elsewhere, including seven who have recently been hired by the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office. “I can’t blame [officers] for leaving,” Arotzarena said. “They’re tired of the politics and tired of seeing politicians bad mouthing them because of their pension.”

The police officers’ union and the city are at a standstill over the amount that officers should pay into their pensions. Mayor-elect 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.  Historically, Oakland police officers have not contributed to their pension plans and are able to retire with full pay at age 50.

On December 14, the city council’s Public Safety Committee will meet to discuss a proposal that will merge the Community Police Advisory Board and the Violence Prevention Public Safety Oversight Committee. The combined group would be in charge of monitoring how Measure Y funds are used.

11 Comments

  1. TheSkylineHighSenior

    It’s quite obvious that a majority of Oaklanders don’t want safety to be a priority or reasonably support the police department, so let’s just let the thugs kill each other, thugs to beat their spouses and for de facto anarchy to continue in some parts of the city.

  2. Taxpayers were sold a bill of goods with Measure Y, and another one with Measure BB. Maybe with the police force this low, people will finally wake up out of their stupor and realize how misled they were. More taxes for fewer police. People – what were you thinking?

  3. Benjamin Home

    HAHAA! Oakland is a Joke; Jean Quan is a Joke; just look at her clown face on KTVU! Has anyone mentioned that OPD will have to hire again eventually. When they do; it will cost $150,000 per recruit just to put them through the recruit and background process, academy, field training program, and probation? Good luck Oakland, you’ve been bamboozled again, by the circus you call the the City Council and Jean Quan.

  4. Jim Ratliff

    This article’s depiction of Measure BB is misleading. As a result of Measure BB, there are several million dollars each year available for funding the police. This allows OPD to not layoff further officers that would have had to be laid off if BB didn’t pass. So, bottom line, there will be more officers on the force with BB than there would have been if BB had failed.

    • Jim – that’s one way to look at it. The other way to look at it is that if BB had failed, the City would have had a real incentive to get the force back up to 739, in order to collect the funds for the additional 63. Now, there is no incentive. So the force will continue to drop, likely below 600 in the next year. Plus, the restrictions of Measure BB are going to decimate other units. If BB had been rejected, there would also have been additional incentive to possibly place an alternative “Measure Y fix” on the next ballot – perhaps limiting the amount of funding given to fire and violence prevention, and allocating it to police, where it is most needed. But by passing BB, citizens gave up on minimum police staffing, and voted to continue giving away $6 million in violence prevention funds that have virtually no accountability.

      • OakGrrl

        Ms. Lee, in case you missed it the City has no more money. The only way the City was going to be able to fund 739 in this currect environment would be to cut all other services to the bone. MY was poorly written. Like it or not, violence prevention is effective at reducing police cost.

        People should know that it was the newest officers who were let go. People should also know that there is no PD within the 9 Bay Area counties where officers do not contribute at least 9% to their retirement. You can draw your own conclusions.

        • The City may have no money, but that’s because it has frittered it away, and continues to fritter it away, on excessive salaries, pensions, unaccountable violence prevention programs, municipal id cards for illegal aliens, mandatory requirements for bilingual staff that it can’t comply with (and resulted in a lawsuit and settlement), the list goes on and on. This city needs to prioritize public safety.

        • Benjamin Home

          OakGrrl, “Like it or not, violence prevention is effective at reducing police cost.”

          By violence prevention programs do you mean giving money to social programs such as Youth Uprising to promote gangsta rap that glamorizes sex, pimps, drugs, and the killing of police officers?

          http://www.orpn.org/sideshows2.htm

          Also OakGrrl, violence prevention programs that receives money from Measure Y does not need to provide or show any objective measure of effectiveness in reducing police cost, or any results of how programs spend their money for that matter.

          … and if you’ve been keeping up with the news lately. OPD contributed back 34 million dollars to the City of Oakland when they didn’t have to. Jean Quan and the City Council laid off 80 officers in July anyways. OPD does want to contribute to their pensions, however they want a long term contract to prevent further layoffs. Whats to stop Quan from laying off more officers after receiving people’s pensions?

          Did you know that the city council including Jean Quan has their pensions paid by the City and the citizens of Oakland too?

          All aside; at the end of the day, Oakland will stay Oakland because Oakland wants Oakland to be Oakland.

  5. oranckay

    Picture might be a line of police officers in Oakland, but anyone who knows Oakland and OPD should be able to recognize that the picture is not “a line of Oakland police officers.”

    • Nicole Jones Post author

      You’re right. I mistook them to be Oakland police officers, but thanks to your comment, I took a closer look and realized that in fact they were from Alameda County Sheriff’s department. The night of the Mehserle trial, a lot of other police departments came in to assist the Oakland police department. -NJ

  6. Mitch

    Oakland Police Officers are not the highest paid in the nation. I know, I was one that got laid off. Mayor-elect Jean Quan should tell the truth about the police taking up 40% of the budget. The General Fund, which is the only discretionary fund, is about 40% of the entire city budget that is close to 1 Billion Dollars. Police and Fire actually represent about twenty five percent of the entire city budget. 60 million dollars on museum renovations for a place that will never that kind of return in ten years. The people of Oakland, you allowed this. Take pride in being the fifth most dangerous city in the nation.

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