Labor

Why Would 80 Police Officers Cost Oakland $100 Million?

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Oakland 2009.

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.

NEXT: The Big Implosion of Big Breitbart's Big Story

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  1. I’d rather have to come home and police my own neighborhood than deal with most officers.

  2. Who needs ’em. Where I’m from nobody bothers anybody else. If someone does, they better be prepared for some good old country justice. If you don’t agree with vigilantism don’t f**k with other people and you won’t have to worry about it. Call it citizens policing themselves.

    1. hmm & Country Boy,
      You are both on the right track. I agree with you. We’d rather take care of our own than have the police state that we are currently living in. Remember, don’t record or video any of our public servants.

      1. Yay vigilantism?

        1. I’m not advocating vigilantism, at least not in the sense of seeking justice outside the law. If anything the current state of police leans more toward vigilantism and operating outside the law. I’m just saying I trust myself and my neighbor to make a better decision than most officers at this point.

  3. “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.”

    Some people think throwing money at the problem never solves anything, but I think you have to take where the money’s coming from into account.

    …because rich people’s money has magical properties that somehow makes throwing their money around work!

    Anyway, Oakland is about the last place on earth that should be raising taxes. The problem in Oakland is poverty. If ever a group of people needed to keep more of what they have, it’s the people of Oakland. Raising taxes on those people is unconscionable.

    Anybody who proposes raising taxes on the people of Oakland shouldn’t be trusted alone with small children.

  4. Maybe the officers could write down what they do all day, every day, and then submit that to the electorate to decide whether they should keep their jobs. It would be so hilarious, seeing them try to come up, even if lying, with enough stuff to fill their shifts.

    1. -Shooting dogs.
      -Complimenting each other on how good we look in black.
      -Tell kids why drugs are bad, m’kay?
      -Shooting critters (can be pets, we’re not picky)
      -Read classic literature and playing chess Reading tabloids while sitting a cruiser on the side of the road.
      -Burn the money alloted to us, ask for more.
      -Paperwork 🙁

  5. The federal government is in a position to provide a helping hand to strained localities.

    Really? I could have sworn I read that the federal government is running a deficit in the hundreds of billions. It must have been a right-wing biased place.

  6. Hey, it could be worse.. they could be the city of Bell..

  7. Hey, it could be worse.. they could be the city of Bell..

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  10. Jonathan Zasloff, a law professor at UCLA, suggested that the federal government simply yank Fox off the air. “I hate to open this can of worms,” he wrote, “but is there any reason why the FCC couldn’t simply pull their broadcasting permit once it expires?”

    Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2010/07…..z0uIN6IF1T

    1. Somehow, I don’t think Fox News has an FCC broadcast license.

      1. Tulpa,

        I’m pretty sure you’re right. Fox is a cable network and thus not subject to FCC broadcast licensing. Leave it to the statists to not be able to keep track of their own controls.

        1. hey, just yank what ever they have

    2. Uh, Sidd, that text isn’t at the link you provide. They have a different Zasloff quote: “Do you really want the political parties/white house picking which media operations are news operations and which are a less respectable hybrid of news and political advocacy?” which is backed up by a dead link.

      1. Do you just like being obtuse? The quote is on the second page. The magic squirrels provide the link, and I didn’t delete it because reasonable folk just might read the whole thing.

  11. Considering some of the comments from Reason contributors*, I want some fucking names if anyone else was on this thing.

    *Balko’s pathetic defense of Wright leaps to mind, but there’s plenty more.

    1. Hey, Sidd, here’s a news flash: no matter how much certain libertarians like yourself you suck up to us, we’re NEVER going to accept you. To us, you’re nothing but pothead liberals just happen to want a tax cut. But we have no qualms about exploiting you and stealing some of your rhetoric.

  12. Two words: JaMarcus Russell.

    1. I think that’s actually three (3) words

  13. Hmmmm…let’s do the maths.
    Uh, 5 months, 63 officers, 100 million dollars…uh, thats 5/12th of 63/100…
    OK, I’ll just round. 50 cops for 6 months at 100 million would be…about 4 million per cop per year!!!!
    whoa…dude!

  14. I realize I’m risking a “Are you serious?!?” response, but isn’t mandating states and cities allow govt worker unions open to serious constitutional challenge?

    1. Must … control … mouth … of … death …

  15. 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.

    A “fully-loaded” cop in Oakland costs $202,777 a year? But I guess no price is too high to pay for a quality union thug.

  16. 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.

    Why the disparity between the $202,778 figure based on this calculation and the $162,000 figure used by Josh Barro? And what possible justification is there for even a fraction of either figure?

    It should be noted that Oakland police work can be violent.

    So can soldiering. Hostile Fire Pay/Imminent Danger Pay for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan is $2,700 a year.

    1. “So can soldiering. Hostile Fire Pay/Imminent Danger Pay for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan is $2,700 a year.”

      BOOM!

    2. Why the disparity between the $202,778 figure based on this calculation and the $162,000 figure used by Josh Barro?

      Off the top of my head, there’s probably things like benefits paid by the city and pension contributions that aren’t part of what the city directly pays the officer, but are part of the cost of employing them.

  17. pretty much in the few days since the cops have been laid off, there’s been a shootout with a heavily-armed crazy guy with body armor, a sniper attack on a cop in West Oakland, and a visitor from Virginia who was here for a job interview was robbed and murdered over SEVENTEEN DOLLARS.

    and no one listens to my plan… guns for every resident

  18. “The bill has six Republican supporters.”

    How about naming some names? The bill’s THOMAS entry shows Harry (why am I not surprised?) Reid as sponsor, but no co-sponsors.

    1. The linked article mentioned them. The usual suspects (New England Republicans), Mike Johnanns of Nebraska.

      A lot of idiots who say “Well, this works fine for our states, so why don’t we impose it on all the other states.”

      NC and VA state governments are trying to lean on their Senators to oppose this; of course, if we didn’t have the ole’ 17th Amendment, that would be easier.

  19. How could they get a pension without contributing at all? sweet deal.

  20. It should be noted that Oakland police work can be violent.

    Why are Oakland police so violent?

  21. Meanwhile, Castro Valley has no police, no city government (it’s unincorporated), and is doing fine. It’s patrolled by the Alameda County Sheriffs and the California Highway Patrol.

    Guns for every resident of Oakland isn’t necessary. 10% of the population would do. That’s about 40K law-abiding citizens, at about $500 apiece for the handgun of their choice (tied to a license authorizing them to carry it publicly, loaded, openly or concealed), making for a grand total of $20 million in a one-time fixed cost expenditure. Crime would plummet, the police force could be disbanded, and the Sheriffs & CHP could take over what little policing remained to be done in Oakland. A tiny portion of the annual city budget would need to be spent each year to handle handgun vouchers for new residents, as population grew.

    1. The thing about guns is that there are many citizens who are perfectly willing to buy and carry the guns on their own without some stupid subsidy…they just are more afraid of police-related consequences with the gun than thug-related consequences without the gun.

      Simply repeal the reams of stupid laws on the books and people will buy guns on their own.

  22. as if there were no do-nothing city ‘workers’ who could have been laid off rather than the police! the reason for firing our most important civil servants is that it is a cheap ploy to scare citizens into voting for even higher taxes that skirt prop 13. heavily democrat bay area city governments have been whining for decades about the law that protects homeowners from the huge, arbitrary tax increases that were so common before a taxpayer revolt resulted in passage of the initiative.

  23. “city hall” “nimble budgeting”…

    Any city’s politician’s version of “nimble budgeting” is threatening to close police and fire stations when called on their latest pork-o-rama.

    Special service districts. There’s an elected board for the police dept, a different elected board for the fire services, a different elected board for parks and recreation, a different elected board for water and sewer, etc. The parks and rec dept can’t threaten to close the local fire station when the locals refuse to go along with a tax increase for the mayor’s bro-in-law’s $50K consulting contract for what color to paint city hall.

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