Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Back in April 2006, Oakland’s City Council and then-Mayor Jerry Brown were feeling increasing heat from angry citizens about our understaffed police department. Only four months into the year, the City had already witnessed 36 homicides (we’re at 27 for 2008, BTW). People were holding emergency vigils to raise awareness of the growing violence problem. So our elected officials made a public commitment to fully staff the police force by the end of January 2007 (is this sounding familiar yet?) and gave the police (PDF!) department $2.8 million (PDF!) to do whatever they needed to get the job done. Some of the money came from a surplus in the General Fund, and the rest came from unspent Measure Y police funds.

A big chunk of the money was going to pay for 4 police academies between April and January (big ones, with space for 42 recruits each) and 2 lateral academies between April and January. The police department was also going to use it to institute monthly testing “to ensure a constant supply of applicants.” They were going to offer consolidated tests, so all three phases could be completed in a single weekend. We were going to use advertising funds to blitz local media markets. Mayor Jerry Brown announced that he would be partnering with the Peralta Community College District to create a pre-Academy training program that would help reduce our attrition rate.

Fast forward almost two years. Tonight, Oakland’s City Council will vote on a $7.7 million funding request (PDF!) from Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums to fund an accelerated recruitment strategy that will allegedly bring the department to full staffing by the end of the year. The money is going to pay for advertising, four large academies in beginning in May and August, monthly testing of new recruits, and a compressed testing process, among other things. I want the police force fully staffed as much as anyone, believe me. But if I were on the Council, I would give this plan a big thumbs down.

At the Measure Y Oversight Committee meeting last week, Committee member Eli Naor voiced his concerns with the proposal, and concluded with what I think is the key question here: “Do this pass a certain reasonableness test?”

The answer, in my mind, is a very clear no.

Oakland police chief Wayne Tucker, in responses to questions I have asked directly, in his quotes in the newspapers, and at public meetings on this subject, has entirely failed to persuade me that there’s any reason to believe this plan will work. When I first read the report, I was skeptical of some components, but endorsed that overall strategy. Three weeks and a good deal of research later, I have become convinced that there is no reason to believe any of these strategies will be effective or that the police department will spend the money as outlined. Furthermore, I now have less faith than ever that Tucker is competent or qualified for his position, and little confidence that his statements can be trusted.

I wrote about Tucker’s misstatement regarding police hiring freezes in other cities earlier today. In another part of his response to Dillard-Smith’s question (you can view the whole response here), Tucker tells the Committee that competition with other agencies isn’t a problem for OPD, saying “We’ve never had problems getting enough applicants.”

So all that stuff about intense competition and a nationwide police staffing shortage that Tucker has been broken recording for the last two years was…what, then? I mean, he stood before the City Council in November defending his department’s progress on staffing. The police department report (PDF!) attached to the item complained:

At present, the City is taking full advantage of the available qualified candidate pool. The Office of Personnel and Resource Management (OPRM), in cooperation with OPD, is conducting open recruitment and testing for police officers.

It should be noted that the law enforcement profession nationwide is experiencing a hiring crisis. Competition for the dwindling pool of qualified applicants is keen. Coupled with the projected increase in retirements among the Baby Boom generation, law enforcement recruiting has reached a crisis point.

So…which is it? Is it a crisis or has it never been a problem? One of these statements is obviously not true. Is Tucker wrong now or was he wrong then?

I just can’t get my head around the fact that nobody pushing this recruitment plan seems to, I don’t know…have it together. At all. In another scene from the Measure Y Oversight Committee, Director of Personnel Marcia Meyers discusses the department’s recruitment efforts, bragging especially about the recruiting website,

So I was interested in her claim that the website was “interactive.” I figured if it was worth mentioning twice in less than a minute, there must be some really cool interactive stuff going on. Um…nope. It isn’t interactive at all. It’s just a normal website.

It also seems unfinished. There is no link that I could find to the regular Oakland Police Department website. There’s an “apply now” button that doesn’t lead to an application, but to a short form asking for a name and address. Once you submit it, you aren’t even redirected to a normal thank you page! You get this sad thing instead:

When you visit the Oakland Police Department website and click on “Careers,” you are not directed to, but rather to this page, which one reader charitably referred to as “pathetic.”

Look, I’m not trying to be a jerk here. The website is pretty. And aside from a few rather embarassing typos, it gets the job done. I don’t need frills. But why would you brag about how interactive this site is, and especially, bring up comparisons to other agencies?

Look at LAPD’s recruiting page. They’ve got a short movie depicting a day in the life of an LAPD Patrol Officer. They’ve got wallpapers and screensavers and friggin e-cards! They’ve got streaming video ads to watch, a newsletter you can subscribe to, and big honking flashing banners advertising their signing bonuses and candidate preparation program (PDF!). They’ve got all sorts of testimonials from officers about how rewarding their job is.

Sacramento PD has a ton of information on their recruitment page. They’ve got their recruits in the academy blogging about their experiences. They’ve got a online forum for your to ask questions of their recruiters and officers. You can fill out an application to do a ride along with an officer. You can watch a recruiting video. You can apply online.

I’m not saying that we should have OPD wallpaper, but come on. The people pushing this plan cannot provide accurate descriptions of work already done. They cannot provide answers to questions about the plan that are consistent with their positions in the past. Chief Tucker could not even supply the Oversight Committee with consistent numbers about how many community police officers he intends to hire.

Some of these complaints may seem petty, but I have a real problem giving that much money to someone who cannot provide clear, accurate, and consistent answers about how they plan to spend it. Take, for example, some of the responses I received to questions I submitted about the plan:

Q: How many test spots are available on February 21st and 23rd, and of those slots, how many are currently reserved?
A: We can accommodate 120 on Thursday and up to 600 on Saturday.

Q: I have seen nothing that answers my fundamental issue – with a 6 month long academy, as far as I can see, it is literally impossible to fully staff the department with qualified officers by the end of the year. May academy entrants will not complete their field training before the end of the year, and August academy entrants will not have even completed the academy. The attached timeline projection anticipates 100 Academy entrants in May (this seems highly unrealistic to me, but no use speculating right now since we’ll find out whether that’s possible in 2 weeks), and assumes a bizarrely low attrition rate, particularly considering that experience has repeatedly shown that larger academies have higher attrition rates than normal.
A: Consistent with OPD practices, POT’s become officers when they graduate from the academy.

These are not good answers. They do not indicate to me that the department is taking the problem before them seriously. (For those who are curious: I was later informed that 279 applicants registered for the test on Thursday, February 21st, and 112 took the exam. The 23rd had 568 registered, 331 taking the test.)

We gave the police department a blank check two years ago and look where we are now. No responsible Councilmember should support the request (although I’m sure they all will. Maybe not Desley Brooks). Not only is the allocation of dubious legality, it is, as Eli Naor says, a request to mortgage our future:

6 thoughts on “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

  1. Deckin

    From watching Tucker on TV, he seems, frankly, overwhelmed by this job. The web sites issue is just a sign, but an important one. What kind of image does OPD project to applicants and to the world? Why can’t OPD find a decent webmaster to take care of all of this? It’s ridiculous. When you add to that that Jerry Brown offered to fire Tucker (according to Chip Johnson) and take all the heat and Dellums refused (understandable then, maybe), but has still refused (not understandable anymore), it’s yet more evidence of the incompetence going all the way to the top. The story recounted by Chip Johnson that Dellums tried to fire a department head and then backed down when the person refused to leave without a fight tells you everything you need to know. That is outrageous! What kind of manager tolerates that? I used to say that the Dellums non-adminstration’s modus operandi was predicted ahead of time by many of us, but I honestly would never have predicted that. I do believe it’s worse than I thought it would be.

  2. Joe K.

    Just did a little math here – say we spend $10k as a sign-on bonus for each recruit with the Measure Y money we could hire over 700 recruits. That’s more than enough to close the hiring gap and to account for attrition.

    –But maybe spending on advertising is needed to pay back some political favors

    - I wonder

  3. Joe K.

    Just read deeper into the 7.7 million funding request
    The money is split as follows:
    1.5 M for advertising
    .2 M for recruiting of “high yield” applicants
    1.8 M for expedited process for applicants and admin support for new process
    3.3 M for more academies
    .1 M to develop strategies to improve graduation rates
    .3 M to increase field training officers
    .4 M to grow our own – long term approach for getting more candidates

    2.1M (1.5 + .2 + .4) for finding more applicants that may or may not be better quality – not our problem
    3.6M (3.3 + .3) for actually processing candidates all the way through and in field training
    1.9M (1.8 + .1) to do the job better – are you kidding me.. shouldn’t this be the standard practice of our government – not ask for more money to be efficient. Man I must have worked in the private sector too long.

  4. Deckin

    Joe K, I actually suggested that very thing to none other than Jean Quan at neighborhood meeting and you know what response I got? “That sounds interesting, we should look into it” This was just last year and the tone of her response was as if the thought had never even occurred to her. So either she’s brain dead for not having come upon the exact strategy that the military (a competitor for these very same recruits) uses sooner, or she was lying and there’s a political reason why they don’t want to do that. My guess is the latter. The idea that we should actually do something that any business would have thought of as its first response and which has the entire history of humanity as evidence for its efficacy is completely anathema to the political class in Oakland; better to have another committee meeting and possibly appoint another commission.

  5. Patrick McCullough

    Vsmoothe, you seem to have gotten the line a little wrong. In Oakland it goes: FOOL ME ONCE, SHAME ON YOU. FOOL ME TWICE, YOU’RE A VETERAN POLITICIAN.