Sigh. Media reports of a possible layoff of 140 police officers have the whole damn town in a tizzy. Relax, folks. Nobody is getting rid of a quarter of our police force, no matter what you’ve read. Here’s the story.
When I first wrote about this proposal two weeks ago, I said that it obviously wasn’t going to happen, but also that I couldn’t imagine why Dan Lindheim would even suggest it. Then I got distracted with other issues and the why got pushed to the back burner for something to deal with another day. This week’s ridiculous fearmongering, of course, shot it right back up to the top of the list, and well, here you go.
You’ve probably heard more than a little bit about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more frequently referred to as the stimulus package. One of the many departments that gets to give away stimulus money is the Department of Justice (DOJ). Among other things, the DOJ will be awarding $1 billion through what’s called the COPS Hiring Recovery Program (CHRP). This money is awarded through a competitive grant process. For all the details, you can read the entire grant application guide here. Oakland has applied for $23 million a year in funding through this program.
So, basically, the Federal government realizes that cities are hurting with the economic downturn and will have problems affording police. So they’ve created a grant to be administered through the Office of Community Oriented Policing that will hopefully ease a little bit of the pain. The grants are for three years. Cities can apply for CHRP funding to do one of three things:
- Hire new police officers.
- Re-hire police officers that they’ve had to lay off because of budget cuts.
- Pay to keep on police officers who are currently scheduled to be laid off at a specified future date because of budget cuts.
Did you catch that third one? This is key. I have heard so much crazy speculation about why Dellums would float the layoff proposal. Is it because he hates the police? Is it to terrify people into voting for more taxes? Is it to make the Federal government feel sorry for us? The answer, my friends, is none of the above. The reason the Mayor submitted a budget that includes a layoff of 140 police officers in October is because that without scheduling that layoff, we are flat-out not eligible to receive a CHRP grant. It is not a strategic decision, it is a practical one.
This is how it will work. The budget (PDF) the Mayor submitted fully funds the police force through October 1, 2009. As of October 1st, funding for 140 police officers will be removed from the General Fund. This creates the scheduled layoff we need to have in order to be eligible for the grant. If we get the grant, those officers will then, as of October 1st, be funded from CHRP money.
CHRP is a competitive (as opposed to formula) grant. That means we aren’t guaranteed anything. More cities applied for it than the stimulus money will be able to fund. But, we have a really good shot at getting what we asked for, not, as the City would have you believe, because Dellums is flying to DC to beg for it, but because the consideration criteria for the funds are really helpful for Oakland.
They want to know all the normal stuff, like your budget, and your budget deficit, and how much your revenue decreased and the layoffs you’ve done and all that. We’re in pain, of course, but probably not particularly exceptional in those areas. But they also want to know the following specific to the city:
- the percentage of families living below the poverty line
- the unemployment rate
- the foreclosure rate
- how much crime we have
Since Oakland is near the top of the list of “worsts” in like, all those categories, we don’t need to work very hard to demonstrate our need.
On the down side, part of the deal with the CHRP is that you have to promise to retain all the positions funded under the grant for at least a full year after the federal funding expires. Basically, we’re supposed to say that we intended to pay for the officers out of the General Fund starting three years from now. Now we can say we plan to do that, no problem. But if anyone at the DOJ takes the time to look at our projected budget issues three years from now, well, then it’s a whole different story. Because not only do we have a bunch of terrifying new costs about to crop up, we also will be even more screwed than it looked like a few days ago, because the budget the Mayor submitted pushes off even more costs until 2011. So our actual ability to cover those costs three years from now is…let’s just say questionable.
So we’ve applied for the grant, and now we have to approve a budget that includes 140 police layoffs in order to be eligible to receive the grant. Once we do that, two things can happen. One, we get the money. Hooray. This, however, is not without its own issues. CHRP funding covers the full cost of entry-level police salaries and benefits for however many positions the award is for (ideally, 140). It does not cover salaries that are higher than entry level, meaning that the General Fund is still going to have to pay part of the salary costs for those 140 officers. It also does not cover overtime. So the General Fund is still on the hook for that as well. But still, $23 million a year will help a lot.
Two, we don’t get the money. If this happened, and we went ahead with the layoffs of 140 officers from the General Fund, that would put us in violation of the Measure Y mandated minimum staffing of 739 officers. Therefore, to implement the layoffs, we would have to stop collecting Measure Y taxes and lay off additionally the 63 officers funding from that money, for a total of 203 laid off police officers. This would bring Oakland’s sworn police force strength down to a clearly unacceptable 600 officers.
Well, obviously, laying off 200 police, a full quarter of the force, is beyond politically unpalatable. People simply would not stand for it. But we wouldn’t just be cutting police. Because we would have to cancel Measure Y to implement the layoffs, we would also be giving up over $6 million a year in violence prevention funding, and $4 million a year in fire department funding. So not only would you wickedly piss off pro-police, law and order types, you would also have the social programs people up in arms, plus a bunch of irate hills residents terrified of their house burning down and nobody being there to help them. We would have to give up the street outreach and re-entry programs the Mayor is so attached to. There are other financial reasons we can’t do this, which aren’t really worth getting into right now, except to say that basically we’d be inadvertently creating an even bigger General Fund deficit and have to make more cuts anyway.
So what will actually happen? Well, we find out in late summer if we get the CHRP money. If we don’t, then we will have to revisit the budget to put those 140 officers back into the General Fund (in order to meet the Measure Y mandated minimum staffing level). Which would mean making another $23 million in cuts from other sources. That’s hardly unheard of – we had to go back and cut $42 million from the budget last October, and we did it again this Spring. We should all cross our fingers that the City gets all the CHRP funding it asked for, because if not, it will require more unpleasant choices. But, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, stop panicking. Your police aren’t going anywhere.