Ron Dellums’s police recruitment strategy – I read it so you don’t have to

I was going to write about this next week, when it actually went to Council. Annoyingly, Dellums sent out a press release about it, and as usual, it immediately showed up all over the local news. Sigh. Anyway, none of the stories actually explain the plan, so if you want to know the details, the whole thing is outlined below.

Okay, so everybody remembers how Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums promised during his State of the City speech back in January that the police department would be fully staffed by the end of the year. If you forgot, let me remind you:

I said it couldn’t be done.

So now Dellums has submitted his plan detailing how he plans to fully staff the police department by the end of 2008, and like his last public safety initiative, it basically involves using Measure Y reserve funds as a piggy bank.

Okay, that was a little unfair. But Dellums is asking for $7.7 million of Measure Y reserves to fund his recruitment package. (I have issues with this, but this post is long enough, so I’m saving that for tomorrow.)

Anyway, enough of me rambling. Let’s look at the plan.

The report (PDF!) informs us that the matter of police staffing is of utmost importance, because:

Without a fully staffed police department…Oakland risks losing the ability to bring the peace that all residents deserve to this City’s streets.

I think that ship has sailed.

Anyway, the plan gets broken down into four goals, each with a number of steps listed to help achieve the goal.

GOAL #1: Increase the pool of applicants and the number of new POTs entering the Academy in 2008

The first step here is to expand the department’s marketing strategy by : branding OPD as a highly desirable employer, saturate media markets with ads (“prioritizing media markets with proven track records”), post internet job listings for national outreach, update brochures and posters, run 12-week media blitz campaigns before test dates. Total cost: $1.5 million.

Second step – expand recruitment drives in “high yield markets” – local community colleges, military bases, economically depressed California cities. Cost: $200,000.

Third step – expedite the application process. This will be done by: offering monthly test dates for new applicants (I don’t understand this step at all – tests are already given twice a month), find new volunteers for Orals Board review process by reaching out to churches, making personal follow up phone calls to candidates after the pass through each step in the hiring process, and hiring retired police officers to conduct background checks. Total cost: $1.9 million.

So I’m fine with most of that. The only thing that gives me pause is the part where we hire retired officers as annuitants. As Len Raphael has noted here previously, offering police who retire a chance to earn a salary on top of their pension isn’t exactly an incentive for them to stay on the force. I have no quarrel with hiring extra staff to perform background investigations, but is there a reason these have to be former OPD?

Step four – Run concurrent academies. They’re going to hold 2 extra academies at the Alameda County Regional Law Enforcement Training Center, one starting in May and graduating in November, and the other starting in August and graduating in February. This is in additional to OPD’s four academies. Cost: $3.3 million.

Okay, this is one part I have trouble with. Even if they do take all the promised steps to expedite the hiring process, I just can’t figure any way they are going to possibly have 100 recruits ready to start the academy in May. Assuming a significantly faster than usual screening period, those recruits would still have to be taking their test this month to make it into a May academy. There are two passing references to compressed testing, but zero details or explanation is offered about this. I know the department was proud of those 200 phone calls it got after the Superbowl ad blitz, but that’s a long way from the 12,000 applicants Tucker admits we’ll need to fill those slots.

Final step – they’ve apparently already hired “an expert consultant in the field of police recruiting to review and advise staff.” No mention of cost, so this must have been paid for some other way.

My main complaint with this section is that there is no proposal for hiring incentives. I’m all for running more ads, but I can’t help but notice the report bragging about last year’s highly successful ad campaign, and that didn’t manage to staff the department. This just seems like more of the same things we’ve been doing. And while I think it’s reasonable to expect more ads to result in more applicants to a degree, I’d be more excited if I was looking at something new – like hiring bonuses. That $1.5 million they want to spend on more ads would go a long way toward one-time signing incentives.

GOAL #2: Increase the success rate of POTs in the Academy

Okay, so the average attrition rate for all our academies in the last 2 years is 36.6%. (The report does not note that there is a strong correlation between larger academies and higher attrition rates. I only mention this because it will become relevant later.)

Okay, so they’re going to lower the attrition rate by:

  • “Offer POTs physical conditioning opportunities before they begin the Academy.” The intense pre-Academy training program Dellums promised during the State of the City speech appears to have been replaced with a new plan, in which recruits will get “the opportunity to condition with the Training Division’s RTOs prior to starting.” Okay, not fond of this one. This seems less beneficial than the previously described program and also exceedingly annoying for the RTOs, who presumably have other things to do.
  • “Train academy instructors on how to utlize the new ‘Problem Based Learning’ method.” No comment. Based on the Wikipedia article, problem-based learning sounds like some whack hippie ass shit to me, but I know next to nothing about pedagogy trends, so I’m withholding judgment.
  • Give each POT a DVD to help them pass tests.
  • “Provide enhanced support and mentoring for POTs by current OPD officers.” Great.

Total cost: $100,000.

GOAL #3: Field more fully trained and qualified police officers on the streets of Oakland

Okay, I already wrote about how OPD doesn’t have enough field training officers. In November, the Council received a report (PDF!) on police recruiting that explained:

In a best case scenario, OPD can maintain 50 Field Training Officers (FTO) who can accommodate 30 to 35 trainees at a time for the 15 week field training program. OPD can run three 15 week field training cycles for a total potential output of 90 to 105 officers at the maximum, ff OPD were to graduate either a larger academy class or two classes simultaneously there would be police officers who could not begin field training due to the lack of FTOs.

Anyway, now this report says that OPD currently has 30 FTOs. So…that’s more like, what, 20 trainees at a time? Anyway, the report says “OPD will enhance incentives for officers to work as FTOs,” and provides a cost of $290,000, but gives no indication as to what these incentives are. Then later, in the line item proposed budget attached to the report, the $290,000 is listed as the “Cost for additional hours to train increased FTO staff.” So…apparently the incentives are not monetary? Seriously, I’m completely confused about this part of the plan.

And then the second step under this goal is to “place more officers on the street through increased civilianization of non-emergency jobs.” Well, yes. This should be done. This what part of Ignacio’s comprehensive public safety plan that he announced in September (so were hiring incentives), but all that seems to have just gotten dropped entirely. Anyway, while I fully support this initiative, I don’t understand why ZERO DOLLARS are requested to fund it. Won’t these new civilians in these jobs cost money? If no money is being requested now (presumably because right now all that is proposed is that “the City will continue to evaluate and identify all duties that could be delivered by trained non sworn personnel”), when if this promised civilianization going to happen? (Several people have told me that the reason we aren’t doing this is because of opposition from OPOA, but I have no idea whether or not that’s true. The people I heard it from all have an interest in passing the buck.)

GOAL #4: “Grow our own” pool of applicants

We’re going to create a “pipeline” for getting more Oaklanders as police by working with Peralta Colleges and hosting recruiting drives at them, expanding the OPD internship program, and expanding the “Police Explorer” program for high schoolers. Total cost $379,000.

Attached to the report is a projected timeline showing that we will have 803 (actually, 807) officers by December 2008. Um…I just don’t buy it. That number is reached by assuming that we’re going to be able to fill two academies starting in May with 50 recruits each, and that they’ll only have a 25% attrition rate. I’m highly skeptical that they’ll be able to find and screen 100 recruits by that time, and even more skeptical that these enormous academies (we have never had a 50 person academy once since we restarted police hiring in 2005) will have such a high retention rate, particularly considering their size.

So on the whole, I don’t think these are bad ideas. In fact, with the exception of the places I’ve noted otherwise, I think they’re all things the department should be doing. So I’m happy to see the Mayor pushing OPD to move in the right direction. I would have liked to see this strategy from the Mayor a year ago, but the City Council has had plenty of opportunities over more time to work with OPD to create one, so it would hardly be fair to single out Dellums for blame here. Better late than never, right?

What irritates me about the strategy is this mad rush to spend as much money as possible. Aside from the extra advertising and academies, most of this isn’t very expensive. And I just don’t see any amount of advertising getting us enough recruits to fill 2 huge academies three months from now, which would have to happen if we were going to get to 803 by the end of the year. I guess we’ll find out in May, and I will be happy to be proved wrong, but until then I just have a hard time taking all this seriously when it comes attached to a completely unrealistic promise.

As I’ve said before, I would prefer we utilize resources in a way that considers our long-term needs rather than pour everything we have into a single frenzy to meet some arbitrary deadline. That the Mayor has chosen this approach annoys me, but on the other hand, I can hardly blame him for it – the people are demanding their officers now, and if I had to read about 20 irate Chip Johnson columns lambasting me on police staffing, I’d probably opt for the unfulfillable promise that gets him off my back for a couple months too.

10 thoughts on “Ron Dellums’s police recruitment strategy – I read it so you don’t have to

  1. len raphael

    hiring bonus doled out at milestones in the training process could help what Capt T stated was a problem with cadets dropping out because of the long hours of homework involved: their families and friends pressure them to quit.

    for next few years we have to do what the army now does: lower entrance, training and graduation standards. am not being facetious. probably that’s what dellums is really proposing in a more politic way by using community college programs etc. reduce the ratio of trainers to recruits.

    if we go that route, we shouldd increase rather than decrease the number of investigators and monitors in Internal Affairs, because we’ll get a lot more bad apples or just recruits who should have been counseled out during training. But the additional IA they can be civilians. Then use say 10 of the 20 current uniformed staff in IA to train and mentor the new recruits.

  2. len raphael

    i commented before going to the opd job website. (

    I didn’t realize that cadets are paid a rate of 62k/year while attending the academy.
    $69,162 to $87,172 annual salary range ($62,245 while in Academy) plus shift differential, advanced degree / certification pay, and bilingual pay.
    Other benefits include paid vacation and sick, holiday, and military leave; medical, dental, and vision coverage. We are under the 3% at 50 retirement plan; the City of Oakland pays the 9% PERS contributio

    For a 20 something with only a ged or hs diploma, that is such good money that paying a sign up bonus also probably only a marginal effect. still worth trying and see if it just brings in ex day traders and mortgage brokers.

    maybe instead of signup bonus, again imitate the us military and offer a GI bill for getting more education later.

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    Len –

    It is certainly a good pay package for someone with that education and experience level. But remember that we aren’t competing against Wal-Mart for recruits – we’re competing against other agencies that offer similar compensation packages. The idea behind the signing bonus is that it is a one-time incentive that would give us an edge in a highly competitive market.

  4. len raphael

    a little attention to cutting the early retirement, medical disability, and resignations might be very cost effective.

    eg. what do the exit interviews of cops who resign say? is it only too much involuntary OT, low job satisfaction because inadequate staffing means they can’t follow up anything, excessive paperwork for the Riders settlement, hostility from community, no resources to enforce misdemor laws, judicial system that “coddles” criminals.

    has anyone looked into the stats for Russo’s office to see whether there is any substance to the belief among some cops that his office settles way too often when the City is sued for police misconduct. Last I checked months ago, total number of settlements had dropped but the total dollars had not. No doubt Russo would argue that it’s cheaper to settle than fight, but is he weighing the cost to police morale when he weighs litigation costs and risks?

  5. gus aguayo

    Oakland cannot wait for new recruits. Half that money can be used for mutual aid in having the California Highway Patrol, Alameda County Sheriff, and even State Parole assist in patrolling the streets of Oakland on Fridays and Saturdays. Use that money, to use current Oakland Police Officers to work as Crime Supression units where they do not respond to regular calls for service, but rather patrol and saturate hot spots. Half of the other money can be used for recruiting more police officers. Oakland Police may have to obtain police officers buy hiring laterals. I work in San Jose and people that live in San Jose tell me that San Jose is “saturated” with police. I agree and in Oakland, I rarely see an Oakland cop car. I know Oakland Police Officers are doing the best they can with the resources they have. If the “bad guys” see a cop car going up and down the street many times, maybe that “bad guy” will have second thoughts on victimizing another person. Common sense can make Oakland a safer and better city. Trying to listen to Mayor Ron Dellums reasoning just gives me a headache. If San Jose can do it so can Oakland.

  6. concerned resident

    If we make it easier to hire, train and graduate officers, we will have even more problems than before with retention…Look at the example of City Manager Deborah Edgerly’s daughter…she tried 3 times to graduate the academy, but due to STATE training standards, she failed..repeatedly (thank god!!!). (the great thing is, they hired her as a civilian investigator now…brilliant!!) If OPD had their own standards that did not have to conform to the POST State standards, we would have an academy that looked like the Fire Department, where you can graduate with a failing score!!!! The FD has had 3 academies without a single person being dropped for performance…and that is IMPOSSIBLE!!!

    To be honest, the PD needs more than double the personnel, but with the general attitude, low morale, change in shift schedule, and the general attitude of the public towards the Police, it is amazing that there are any officers left!!

  7. Jonathan C. Breault

    Concerned Citizen is correct. Unfortunately most people in Oakland are either completely ignorant or unconcerned. The facts about Deborah Edgerly’s daughter are par for the course here in Oakland. The police department is devalued, disrespected and is forever held to a standard completely unrealistic and unfair. The problems in Oakland emanate from the top. Management and political leadership in Oakland is contemptible. The people who make decisions affecting all citizens are for the most part idealogues who don’t want to address crime in a serious manner. The police department is a joke. Oakland is the laughing stock of most of the country. It is synonymous with crime, lunacy, and decay. The depotism and other policies which serve to discourage highly intelligent, TRULY QUALIFIED people from working in Oakland are longstanding and seeminly intractible. The percentage of taxpayer monies squandered is appalling. Smart people once acquainted with the machinations at city hall are sickened. It is a cesspool of cronyism and abject stupidity compounded by ineptitude and cowardice. We’ll see if anyone living in Oakland today is around when the losers running this town get around to providing us with a police department that anyone can rely on.

  8. Deckin

    Although I usually agree with Len Raphael’s comments and like his candidate for City Council, on the issue of lowering standards for OPD to get more bodies, I couldn’t disagree more. This is absolutely not the way to get more cops. J. Breault points to the unspeakable Edgerly and how many times we have had to pay for personal quest to get her daughter onto the public payroll, but that is not the worst of possibilities. If you want that, look to LA. They were facing a cop shortage and did exactly what Raphael is proposing. Well, they got their recruits, but they also got the Ramparts scandal, which was a direct result. They loosened requirements and lo and behold, the very people that the cops should be arresting were hired as cops. No one wants to talk about this but the scandal was completely a result of loosening requirements owing to court orders to change the make up of the department. With things as bad as they are now, can you imagine how much worse they’d be with something like that? You could kiss the city goodbye for a generation.

  9. Ken O

    Orange you glad you live in Oakland and not Orange County?

    Anyway, Deckin is right– we must NOT lower our police hiring standards for any reason, barring a nuclear bomb going off at OPD during shift changeover.

    We don’t want to hire criminals to police our streets.

    On the other hand, finding new recruits who have never ever done drugs is a difficult issue. If we only legalized the drug, the profits involved would drop really low, kids would stop doing it for the danger/excitement factor, and that industry would be much safer. (AND we’d get the sales tax revenues!)

    Still, I wouldn’t hire druggies as cops.

    The main problem seems to be DA TOm Orloff who lets criminals off easily, and the fact that Oakland used to have it’s own court, and now we are sharing it with Berkeley, Albany and other cities who have closed theirs.

    Thank you PROP 13! (We need to roll that back asap.)

  10. ConcernedOakFF

    Drug usage is not a disqualification unless you: a) sold it b) took hard drugs (not Pot) multiple times c) have taken it within 3 years of testing for the job.

    Seems pretty reasonable to me….