So tomorrow, four years and twelve days after Oakland voters approved an $88 annual parcel tax to fund increased police services, the Oakland Police Department will hit an important milestone and finally reach (surpass, actually) the 803 officers voters have been paying for.
Before you get too excited, this does not mean that the promise or obligations of Measure Y have been filled. While we finally have a Problem Solving Officer (PSO) assigned to every beat, as mandated by the Measure, we have not assigned the 6 crime reduction team officers, school resource officers, or domestic violence officers that Measure Y required.
Nor does having a PSO assigned to every beat mean that every beat is actually getting the service level its supposed to. First, there’s the issue of a number of officers currently being on leave or desk duty over illegal warrants. When asked about this at the most recent Measure Y Oversight Committee meeting, OPD representatives declined to answer, saying it wasn’t something they were prepared to discuss in a public forum. Beyond that, active PSOs are still splitting time between their beat and another, because they have to share cars with other officers due to equipment shortages. When Measure Y Oversight Committee Chair Maya Dillard-Smith asked Captain Orozco if the department had an idea when there would be enough cars that each PSO could work only on their own beat, the response was a curt “No.”
Pressing further, Dillard-Smith asked “So, how is the department reconciling the very clear mandate of the legislation with the actual practice? Because, in effect, it’s not even a legal use of funds to be paying for two officers to be in one beat. It says very plain – I’m just trying to understand.” Orozco responded “I think we’ve said it, it’s because of equipment concerns. We just don’t have the vehicles to place an officer on the beat by themselves. We need to have them in a car to respond to calls, to go to that beat, working in pairs. So it comes down to an equipment issue.”
So, of the $7.7 million from Measure Y reserves that the Council approved for the augmented police recruitment program last spring, we’d spent $3.2 million as of September 30th (PDF) (most recent figures available). Was it worth it? Well, we got to 803. (It’s unclear how long this would have taken without the extra spending from the Measure Y reserve funds, as we hit 778 in July with the graduation of the 164th Academy in July, which began in January before the augmented recruitment was even proposed. The staffing projections (PDF) presented to the Council along with the request for funds said we would only be at 752 officers by that date.)
Perhaps, if we were determined to spend the Measure Y police reserves, a better use of funds might have been to buy the equipment the officers need to actually do their jobs. Or maybe, we would all have been better off just letting the money sit in an account and collect interest until we need it, because – and I don’t know how many people realize this – the taxes collected under Measure Y are not actually enough to fund all 63 officers the Measure is supposed to pay for. The plan, until the Mayor requested the money be spent on this augmented recruitment program, was to use the reserves to cover the deficit in the Measure Y account in future years. With that money gone, it’s unclear where that money is going to come from. Well, it will have to come from the General Fund, I guess, but what we’ll have to give up to cover that shortfall is yet to be seen. Our projections (PDF) show the deficit being close to (or in some years, over) a million dollars a year.
I’m happy that the department is fully staffed, I really am. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums said in his State of the City speech back in January that he’d get it done, “whatever it takes.” And hey, he did it. Kudos. I don’t like the way it happened (and didn’t then either) because I think it screws us over in the long-term. I also wonder how necessary it was given that the actual police staffing by mid-year turned out to be dramatically higher than the projections presented as justification for the need to spend all the reserves.
But it’s done now, and I don’t think anyone is going to complain about having a fully staffed department. That does not mean, however, that people should assume they’re finally getting the level of service they’re paying for. The City needs to find a way to produce those cars so every PSO can actually spend their time working the beat they’re assigned to. Otherwise, what’s even the point of having them?
The next meeting of the Measure Y Oversight Committee will be held on next Monday, November 17th, at City Hall Hearing Room 1 from 6:30 to 9:00 PM. It should also be broadcast on KTOP, which you can watch on Oakland cable channel 10, or streaming over the internet. The meeting is going to feature some very detailed discussion of the Measure Y budget and funding projections, so if you’re interested in this stuff at all, it should be worth watching.