Don’t sign the Safe Streets and Neighborhoods Act petition!

Marcus Johnson, co-chair (?) of Safety First, my favorite member of the now-finished Blue Ribbon Housing Commission, fellow Oakland blogger, member of the Measure Y Oversight Committee, NCPC chair, and from what I’ve heard, all around nice, civic minded, hard-working guy, is circulating a petition to place a measure (PDF!) on the November ballot to amend the City Charter to establish a “a minimum of 1075 full duty sworn officers.”

A demand that we increase the police force this much without providing additional funding for it is nothing short of irresponsible. While I absolutely agree that we should increase the size of the police force, we need to do it in a sensible (and funded) way. Trimming the budget is not as simple as many people seem to think it is. I’m not saying it isn’t doable – there are plenty of areas in the budget that I think money can be freed up. There are also sources of increased funding for public safety that we could be exploiting. If I ever manage to catch up on my backlog of half written posts here, I hope to start discussing some ideas for this soon.

But until we do that, we can’t run around making unfunded and unrealistic demands of the City. The Safe Streets and Neighborhoods Act will accomplish nothing other than putting us on the fast track to being the next Vallejo. Vallejo!

32 thoughts on “Don’t sign the Safe Streets and Neighborhoods Act petition!

  1. ConcernedOakFF

    I respectfully disagree. Often, the only way to force the city to place money where it should be going is efforts such as this.

    We went through a similar grass-roots effort when the city was cutting 3 firehouses per day, and basically playing Russian roulette with the lives of the citizens and the firefighters. We attempted to get a city charter change to keep all of our fire houses open, and rather than permanently enshrining this into the charter, the city chose to make an agreement with the union for 10 years to keep staffing at the current level.

    This may be an attempt to do the same.

    Think of how much waste the city has in it’s budget, and how much is lost in corruption.

    Take that money, and use it to hire more cops.

    As far as becoming Vallejo, that is NOTHING like this issue. That is mostly misunderstood by the public, and has as much to do with personal attacks than any public safety/money issue.

    In Vallejo, the fire department was trying to keep their ONLY ladder truck (the truck is the vehicle that has the big ladder, a lot of small ladders, tools to cut people out of cars, rope to rescue people etc, and on fires is responsible for the search and rescue of citizens, and ventilation of the fire building) in service. This is their ONLY TRUCK! For a city of 100,000+ people, they should have at LEAST 2…but the city has no idea what we do, and how we do it, and so tries to cut the most “expensive” parts.

    Irresponsible and ridiculous…..

    Much like the waste that our city has in the form of hemorrhaging money on unnecessary projects (i.e. YBM bakery..)

    Get money from developers, business greater than 15 employees, private donors etc…

    Spend it on Public Safety and infrastructure.

    Sign this petition.

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    Instead of vague talk about waste and corruption, perhaps those who think we can easily come up with the funds to hire another 300 police should spend some time with the city budget and make a list of specific things they think should be cut to free up the funds. I read and hear a lot of talk about how the city’s budget is full of waste, and I’m not necessarily saying I disagree, but it troubles me that many people who talk about it don’t seem to have read the budget. This makes it hard to take their assessment of the budget seriously.

    Vallejo teetering on the edge of declaring bankruptcy is about personal attacks, not money? I have a hard time believing that. They managed their budget poorly, they failed to account for future obligations, and now they’re paying the price. I do not want Oakland to end up in that situation. Any call to increase the police force needs to be accompanied by a detailed plan to pay for it.

  3. Charles Pine

    Well, I have read the budget. That’s how we learn, for example, that while the number of City gardeners went from 82 in 1989 to 63 in 2007, the total FTE positions in the budget increased by 557 jobs. Talk about contempt for basic services.

    However, you cannot learn everything from reading the budget. I once tried to understand how mayor Dellums was going to pay for his chief of staff when he came into office. The published budget showed money into and out of a pair of funds, but the amounts were off about 10 percent. I called a City budget analyst. It took her two days to retrieve the details. She called back and walked me through about seven transfers of funds. There was no way that a “civilian” (that’s City Hall-speak for ordinary residents) could have figured that out by reading the budget.

    A councilmember can find out where the money is. As most readers here know, I’m running for the at-large seat on a platform of at least 1,100 officers, priority for basic services, and clean government.

    Now there is this petition.

    And this morning’s Tribune reports City Hall under legal fire by a homeowner-attorney who is fed up with the cavalier violations of Measure Y parcel tax ordinance.

    The wind is rising. There will be eddies and swirls, but the general direction is good.

  4. Joanna

    Isn’t the issue a bigger one than money? Even if Oakland had the money – which they don’t – they couldn’t find enough people to hire to fill all the OPD openings. Signing a petition isn’t necessarily going to force the city to hire more officers – it may, in fact, force them to keep lowering standards…

    Not that I don’t think we shouldn’t work towards a specific number, even higher than the current wishlist number. I just think we need to do better in coming up with a serious plan. At this point I’d like to see us ask for state or federal help with this for the interim so that we can get control back of our streets.

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    Charles Pine –

    Yes, you are one of few who has studied the budget and the city’s history. You have also frequently pointed out areas where you don’t believe that the city should be spending money. While I usually disagree with your conclusions about spending priorities, I have a great deal of respect for the amount of time and energy you put in to the efforts. Still, you have not, to my knowledge (and please correct me if I’m wrong), provided a plan to fund staffing the police force with 1100 officers using our current funds. Such a plan would need to go beyond saying that we have too many employees, and should identify specific positions you think should be eliminated in order to free up the needed amount of funds.

    The City should provide better public information and I would like to see some kind of document that will help people understand the budget that provides significantly more information than those four page pie charts they give out, but is more digestible that the actual budget. Having said that, I don’t think it’s imperative that one understands all the fund transfers to be able to identify what money is being spent on.

  6. Charles Pine

    Shocking as it might be to some persons, I expect once elected to work with the rest of the city council to get 1,100 officers. If you agree that we must have more police, and if you accept the plentiful evidence that we have the resources to do what all those other cities do, then the final budget configuration should be a joint mayor and council product.

    Obviously, the first hurdle is a political one, not a policy puzzle: by electing me on a Peaceful Neighborhoods platform, Oakland residents tell City Hall they want an adequately staffed police force.

  7. Max Allstadt

    I’ve met Marcus at city hall a couple times, and your description of him seems pretty accurate. I’m not sure if this is the right way to increase the number of cops on the street, but I’m damn sure we need more than the 800 we’re currently aiming for. A fixed number in the city charter is weird.

    If we’re going to amend the charter to do anything, we need to amend it to force more transparency and engagement from the mayors office.

  8. Buddy Cushman

    So, assuming the measure is adopted, the charter amended, and a new “law” is born, and if by some stretch of the imagination the City remains unable to reach the required quota of hiring, will police officers on patrol in the neighborhoods be required to leave and go “arrest” those responsible? And who will be responsible? The Chief? The Mayor? The Council? … It seems that everyone agrees that the City needs more police officers. So why don’t the leaders do what they know needs to be done? Who is accountable? And, why not a measure for x percentage of required graduation from the public schools, or y percentage of youth employed in summer jobs, or one for just about anything that people agree will improve the quality of life? Despite the obvious fact that the measure does not address the moola, it does add more paper; more beaurocracy; more beaurocrats; $25,000 a year that could go for a street worker position, or staffing at a battered womens’ shelter, more trees…when I was in college, back in the day, the college president shut down the school newspaper because he didn’t approve of an article that was going to be published. Throughout the community people were interviewed for an alternative addition, and they said outraged and rightious things. But only one English professor got it right: “Where’s the tissue? That’s the issue”. Where are the leaders, doing the right things?

  9. Ralph

    do we need more cops? probably. can we find the money in the budget? probably by outsourcing non-essential services, eliminating jobs that have gone unfilled for years, and killing non-effective programs.

    but if i can’t find the 75 candidates at 70K a year get me to 803 how the heck am i going to get to 1100.

    and if we could find said money would you prefer it go to programs that try to capture the horse once it left the barn or would you prefer to stop the horse before it leaves the barn.

    the preventative and corrective programs need to work in concert and if we spend all money on foot patrol then 15 years from now we will be living in a police state

  10. Ralph

    if we actually had tax dollars we could avoid some of this discussion, but it seems that either city council or the citizens of Oakland are opposed to real construction that brings real dollars to the city.

    if it can be done in DC, then itcan be done in Oakland.

  11. Colleen

    I am in support of having a police departmnet which reflects the needs of Oakland. Unless and until we get crime dramatically down we will never get the business development and retail that we need (Good development, without the handouts, with community benefits and other fees to help pay for them. With the crime we currently have, each of us in Oakland is paying a tax of sorts–a crime tax–because we can’t shop in our own city but must travel elsewhere. Increasing the sales tax will add much to the city’s balances. Lastly, I’d rethink the necessity of so many redevelopment areas. While the city gets a lot of money in terms of reprogrammed funds for capital projects, the amount of money for city services is frozen in time and doesn’t increase.

    That being said, I don’t know how the author came up with the magic number of 1075 officers. Why not 1000 or 950 officers?

    It’s my intention to sign the petition to make the city sit up and take notice and negotiate. The tactic worked for the fire department. Meanwhile, I’m going to try to find out how the numbers were determined and justified.

  12. Jonathan C. Breault

    The necessity to dramatically increase the size and budget for the police force cannot be obscured by the false premise that there is no money in the budget. That presupposes the a falsehood which is that Oakland has an efficient administration with reliable information in conjunction with prudent accounting and proper management. If Oakland is not to descend into depths heretofore unknown in the modern, civilized world it has no other option. Oakland needs to alter the course of increased savagery. Too bad for the Oakland boosters or as most people who are reasonably objective would label pollyannas but the truth is Oakland has to stop getting WORSE before it begins to get better. Without a police force at least 75% larger than the one we have now every awful trend emerging in Oakland will exponentially increase. And now that the real estate bubble reached it’s inevitable peak and the unsustainable income from real estate transfer is no longer part of the budget Oakland has to grow up and become a normal part of the economy. That will NEVER EVER happen unless and until the crime and the thug culture is brought under control. And Oakland has a long way to go and of course the people running Oakland inspire no one. Without 1200 police and a mayor and council who will get the heck out of their way Oakland can forget about it

  13. ConcernedOakFF

    A reason that the OPD cannot recruit police officers is the COMPLETE lack of morale in the OPD!

    This is due to a few reasons, some of which I agree with, some I do not:

    1) The change to a 12 hour workday. They now work more hours for the same pay, meaning they took a pay cut. Also, that schedule is tougher on the family and sleep patterns for the graveyard shift officers.

    2) When you look at pay, you CANNOT just look at the 70K number. This is pure paper money. We, the public safety employees of the city pay more into our retirement than any other comparable city. In reality, 70K to start is more like 55K in real money. Try buying a house with that salary in the city.

    3) Every city out there is having a hard time recruiting police officers for the simple reason that it is a very difficult job that gets constantly beaten up by the media, the city, the citizens and it’s own department.

    4) The OPD has historically been a “training ground” for higher paying, safer police departments. People come here for 3-4 years, then leave. This creates the 5 year “veteran”.

    5) Special interest based hiring and promotion. Never good for morale.

  14. James H. Robinson

    Actually, the 12-hour workday was offset by more time off, so the Oakland police are working the same number of hours overall. In fact, other police departments such as East Palo Alto have been working this type of schedule for some time.

  15. Charles Pine

    The new OPD work schedule is seven 12-hour days every two weeks (84 hours). Previously, the schedule was four 10-hour days per week (80 hours in two weeks). That is a five percent increase in hours.

    As indicated by the odd number of work days — seven — over two weeks, the days of the week that an officer is off change from one week to the next, so how does he enroll for a weekly class or commit to a weekly event with his family?

  16. James H. Robinson

    Yes, 4 hours is a 5% increase, but that is not as large an increase as it sounds. Most people will hear “12-hour workdays” and think 12 hours a day times 4 days a week equals a 48-hour work week or 96 hours during a 2-week pay period. 84 sounds much better than 96 and isn’t much worse than the number of hours most people work in a 2-week period. Again, other police departments in the are already working this type of schedule. Why should Oakland be any different?

    Overall, though, I agree at reducing crime should be Oakland TOP priority. I moved to Oakland because I think the town has potential. A renaissance is coming. However, increased crime decreases the chances of Oakland’s revitalization. I think the voters of Oakland have reached the end of their tolerance and that they will make that known to elected officials. This could have consequences for City Council members this year and for Mayor Dellums in 2010, assuming he stays mayor that long.

  17. Max Allstadt

    Try buying a house on the full 70k in this city! The only reason I could afford to buy anything is ’cause my dad helped me out in a major way.

    On point #3: Some of that beating is self inflicted. Sending an assistant chief to tell Anderson Cooper that there was nothing fishy about the interrogation of Devandre Broussard is like slapping yourself in the face. That said, the cops I meet on the street are good, concerned people, and they really try to get it right. I meet a lot of them because of where I live. Never had anything but positive interactions.

    On point #5: That statement is too short. I really want to hear more about that. If you can point us at other sources, that would be awesome too.

  18. ConcernedOakFF

    Just because another police department works a different schedule does not mean it works in Oakland.

    What many people do not realize is the amount of hours a police officer spends on their “off days” in court.

    While it may be payed in overtime, this is manditory.

    It can be up to two days per week of court time.

    Do you think that smaller cities have the same issues?

    I can state with all certainty that they do not.

  19. James H. Robinson

    To Max Allstadt, you might not be able to buy a “house” in Oakland if you make $70K, but you can certainly buy a condo. In fact there are some nice ones off of Keller Avenue in Oakland called Shadow Woods that are going on auction soon. Part of the reason why I moved to Oakland is that Oakland has the least expensive home prices to be so close to San Francisco.

    Just out of curiosity, what kind of hours do San Francisco police have to work? What about San Jose? Both of those cities are bigger than Oakland. Do they have police working 12-hour shifts?

  20. Deckin

    I understand Smoothe’s problem with committing to something that has no obvious funding stream and the concern about making a specific number of officers a line in the City Charter. But, to the first point: when has that ever been a serious consideration in adopting public policies (seriously)? Jean Quan likes to trot out her fiscal conservative bona fides on this point, but I never recall such constraint on other issues (mayoral staff, etc.). Moreover, what’s wrong with having a statutory stick with which to threaten the Politburo here? Look what the Riders consent decree has done. The city could be held in contempt via a citizens lawsuit and we could perhaps force the layoffs of downtown staff, or, at the least, force a hiring freeze until the statute is complied with? Sometimes the best way to prepare to do something is just to do it. How could this make matters worse, honestly? Ron Dellums thinks we’ve ‘lost our way’. I think that happened in June of 2006. What do the progressives like to say? When the people lead, the leaders will follow.

    As to the specific number of officers, that does seem like an oddity. Why not a percentage of the population or whichever is greater?

  21. Max Allstadt

    deckin’s got a point about the percentage of the population thing.

    So those Shadow Woods condos: Are those subsidized? How much down? Total monthly payments? There was a time when they used to say that a weeks pay should cover your housing costs. Where are we with that?

    Kudos James, for using your real name.

  22. James H. Robinson

    Thanks for the kudos!

    I believe Shadow Woods were once rentals, but they were converted into condos. They were market rate, non-subsidized condos. Last year, when I was in the process of looking at places in Oakland to live, I saw those condos and liked them, but opted to buy somewhere. Now the development is under auction, like other new developments throughout the Bay Area. I don’t know the details, since I’m already locked into my own place that I closed on last December. Here’s the link, though:

  23. James H. Robinson

    Oh, and I agree with a percentage of a population. The number of police should be proportional to the number of people living in Oakland. Of course, if you use that measure, you’ll see just how small our police force is.

    And sadly, I think we are coming to a point where voters won’t care HOW we get more police, as long as we get some. The situation this year has become dire.

  24. Surfways

    I understand your point about the funding possibilities but this petition will tell city hall to get their priorities straight. The city imposed a hiring freeze for police officers and closed the city jail to channel money elsewhere before. Thus, they can channel money to support a safer Oakland from elsewhere. Of course, they must get their priorities straight.
    I know other programs and such are necessary but you have to fix the roof before you put / support other things under it. Only a safe Oakland, will others come to bring their business.

  25. ConcernedOakFF

    As I stated above:

    70K pay for a police officer for the city of Oakland means a take home pay of about 1100 a paycheck (or less if you are saving at all with Def Comp or other methods..)

    Average home price in the area WHERE THE OFFICER WILL NOT BE LIVING NEXT TO THE PEOPLE HE/SHE IS ARRESTING is about 600,000 and up.

    Do the math.

    We (the public safety employees) make wonderful salaries on paper, and I cannot complain about my pay or benefits, but the paper salaries have little to do with actual take home pay.

  26. ConcernedOakFF


    I point to the repeated hiring of the city manager’s daughter, the desire to “push” inadequate recruits through the academy, the racial/gender/cronism preferential promotional process, the poor quality of some recruits that have been taken in, and later not fired due to the cities desire to keep staffing higher.

    I have many friends in the OPD, and I NEVER hear positive things about the following subjects:

    1) The Mayor
    2) The Police Chief
    3) The department and it’s morale
    4) The new schedule
    5) The job in general (but that is another subject)

  27. Surfways

    I am trying to find the percentage of OPD officers that live in Oakland or out of town.

    I am extremely worried about the number of OPD officers that actually live in Oakland. I have a nightmare of the following scenario: When the big one hits, the highways are rendered useless. How are our out of town officers are to come to our aid? Are we to fend for ourselves?

  28. ConcernedOakFF

    Actually, when the “big one” hits, it is actually better to have your Police/Firefighters living out of town.

    The likelihood of their family being directly affected, and them having to stay to help is drastically increased.

    The freeway system collapse scenario is much lower in probability than a house collapse in Oakland.

    Look to New Orleans for a great example. The officers were more worried about the survival of their families than their jobs, and understandably so, and left to ensure their safety rather than coming to the station and grabbing their gear.

    The same scenario could play out here.

  29. Jonathan C. Breault

    The fact that the daughter of the city administrator has received highly preferential treatment in her repeated attempts at becoming an Oakland Police officer is highly troubling on it’s face and the facg that it is not widely dissemnated in the media is evidence of how corrupt this little town really is. People bordering on the obese have no business entering into the world of criminal justice. Deborah Edgerley’s daughter has received highly preferential and unfair treatment and is by any normally accepted standard completely unfit to be a police officer. She is not physically fit to say the least. Oakland seems to be a place where lowering standards is the norm whether it be physical fitness requirements or academic requirements. People are not stupid. When this sort of overt deviation from normal, fair protocol is allowed to favor certain people who have parents in higher places morale suffers and the respect for the efficacy of the institution is diminished. Oakland is a city with so few institutions for which anyone with a reasonable degree aptitutde would find enticeing. It is just another example of the extraordinary and precipitious decline in standards in Oakland. What passes for normal here is sadly quite appalling.

  30. Joanna

    ConcernedOakFF – I’m sorry, but you’ve turned me off with your whinging about your net pay vs your pay on paper. You’ve got bennies and a retirement plan. That’s so much more than some of the rest of us have. You chose your job, I chose mine (although I’m choosing to leave mine) and we all have to live with our decisions. Please – stop complaining about making so much money.

    Jonathan Brealt – I couldn’t agree more with your comments on Ms. E’s daughter. Sheesh, why either one are employed by the City is an amazement to me.

    Yes, we all agree that we need more police on the streets. I agree with the idea of a %, although I think that it can go up and down as needed based on reported crimes – or based on severity of crimes. I don’t think setting a specific number is the right thing, especially right now when no one really has a clue as to how to get to the current proposed number. I think EVERYONE agrees that we need more officers on the street, it’s just a matter of what would be an incentive to get more officers – and not just in terms of cash. Do you want to risk your life? Yes, some people take advantage of the great pay and find ways to sit in their cars at Brush and 2nd. Lucky them. But they’re not lucky all the time.

    That said, there’s still the city budget to be figured out. I think we could all look at the budget and do an in-depth study and all disagree on ways of resolving the shortfalls and figuring out where to make cuts. Personally, I’d cut Edgerly and go from there, but other people love her. For me, she’s become a symbol of what needs to change in this City. That said, I also think Francine Lakrith Thompson could also go. I’m tired of egos running major departments and refusing to see that money is hemoraging or costing us to lose the intangibles – money that we could be making if we stopped sending so many away. (parking fees, etc.)

    But hey, I just went to dinner around the corner from where I live, then walked down to Yoshi’s for a drink with friends who were here from SF to see a show, stopped to chat with my local police officers (TK!), and made it home without incident. That’s a good night in Oakland, eh? Sometimes you gotta find the lemonade amongst all the lemons.

  31. ConcernedOakFF

    Um, Joanna, if you read my post, I clearly state that I cannot complain about my salary or bennies, and I completely understand that not everyone has them. I am very happy with my job and the renumeration that i receive.

    It was not at all meant as whining.

    I just wanted to make clear that when you see a large number, it does not necessarily translate into real money.

  32. Max Allstadt

    Joanna, there’s are very good reasons that cops and firemen have such excellent benefits. I’ll give you one reason for cops, and one for firemen:

    Cops: Bullets.
    Firemen: Flames.

    They don’t have control over where they’re assigned, even if sometimes they do end up somewhere relatively safe, there’s no telling how long they’ll stay there. The best tactic I heard for cutting benefits appropriately came from a cop, actually. Simple: get all the sworn officers on the street, and replace the desk jockeys with civilians who don’t need the same level of benefits. It’s a management issue.

    We also, as FF has said, must have a huge morale problem. Take a look at starting salary for an NYC cop. They don’t have a recruitment problem. Why? Because being an NYC cop is considered a calling and an honor. They have morale to spare. What do we do to change that in Oakland?