Why Would 80 Police Officers Cost Oakland $100 Million?


Little noticed in the story of the Oakland police layoffs and the city's ensuing crime spree is that less than six years ago Oaktown voters approved a tax specifically to pay for more cops.

As Damon Root earlier explained, the city has laid off 80 officers.

"Measure Y" [pdf] created a parcel tax and raised parking taxes, with the revenues designated for some crime prevention programs and the hiring of 63 additional officers. 

One argument against rule by ballot initiative is that it creates situations like this one, wherein funds are pre-committed in ways that make nimble budgeting (never a high priority at City Hall) impossible. In the event, Measure Y's benefits were remarkably slow to show up, and the city is now considering a new pair of ballot initiatives to create another parcel tax and to "fix" Measure Y.

At the Defending Measure Y blog, Marleen Lee offers this assessment:

Let's just review what we got with Measure Y. So far, it has cost us over $100 million. We were promised full staffing at 802 for 10 years. What did we get? Full staffing at 802 for less than five months out of five years. And now the City has to abandon Measure Y. So we got 63 officers for less than 5 months, for a price tag of $100 million. Ripoff of the century. Nobody in their right mind would support another parcel tax under those circumstances.

I'm not confident of Lee's $100 million figure, in large part because data on Measure Y revenues and expenditures are as opaque as only a major California city government can make them. Such a large failure — after voters had shown the commitment to "taxing themselves" that good government believers call for—helps explain why there is so little sympathy for the police officers' union. At East Bay Express, Robert Gammon applauds the city council for rejecting the Oakland Police Officers Association's no-layoff, no freezes, no-cuts proposals:

The council also deserves credit for rejecting the unreasonable no-layoffs demand. In reality, it was a poison pill. The reason is that if tax measures planned for the November ballot fail (a definite possibility even if the union had given up the no-layoffs demand), the city will have to lay off 120 cops — or request even more concessions from the police union. Both options would have been impossible if the city agreed to the no-layoffs plan.

At his own blog, City Council Member Ignacio de la Fuente explains how little the OPOA is willing to give:

I firmly believe in and will continue to push for management tools and technological enhancements within our police department because I believe that until we have these critical systems in place to accurately measure and analyze police workloads, deployment tactics, response times, and real-time crime stats, we will never know how many officers Oakland needs.

Systems such as GPS devices, In-car video cameras, and Comstat are being used by cities and police departments all over the country to not only enhance officer and public safety but also to make officers more accountable to citizens…

Delaying the implementation of these tools is costing taxpayers' money, the same way the City's lack of urgency to balance this budget has driven us into an even deeper financial hole.

I recognize and agree that Public Safety is a core function that ought to be a priority of local governments but in an effort to avoid laying off police officers, I have for months been urging the Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA) to come to the negotiating table and agree to contribute to a portion of their pensions. Today their contribution is zero. A 9% contribution from police sworn personnel would save the City approximately $7.3 million per year. This figure is equivalent to the annual cost of 36 fully loaded (salary & benefits) police officers. Thus far the Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA) has been unwilling to agree to this concession and have said publicly that they will "not agree to any concessions that include layoffs". There is no logical way that we could guarantee there wouldn't be layoffs when we have even bigger budget deficits next year and the following year, and meanwhile, the police and fire departments continue to make up more than 70% of the general purpose fund costs for the entire city.

It should be noted that Oakland police work can be violent; last year the department suffered the horrific murders of four officers in a single day. In the current dust-up a union official has managed to make even that tragedy into farce. Mish Shedlock (who counsels bankruptcy for the overwhelmed city) quotes the OPOA's president:

"Every time you lay us off, there's a gun to the citizen's head as well," said Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association…

[Sgt. Arotzarena] compared the slaying of four officers in the line of duty in March 2009 to Tuesday's layoffs, saying the 80 were released "not by the hand of a gun, but by the hand of a pen."

In the Real Clear Markets article that Damon cited earlier, Josh Barro calls for federal aid that would be tied to a basket of reforms:

The federal government is in a position to provide a helping hand to strained localities. But it must combine that help with a demand for reforms that make local government more sustainable and efficient—so that no city has to say it can't afford a large enough police force because it has to pay each officer $162,000 per year.

I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree… The best way for the federal government to help Oakland and other cities out of their respective jams is to keep its mouth shut and its pockets closed. Nobody makes concessions except under duress. Barro sensibly suggests that states should outlaw public-sector collective bargaining, but Washington is in fact moving that ball in the wrong direction. Right now, 21 states prohibit or limit public sector bargaining rights. (That group includes Virginia and Maryland, the two states that sandwich Washington, DC.) But they stand to lose these restrictions under a Senate bill with the translated-from-Burmese title Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act (S 3194). The bill has six Republican supporters.