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East Bay Express: Throwing more money at police


Oakland already directs a larger percentage of its budget to police than comparable cities nationwide, yet it's planning to spend even more money without demanding reforms.

As crime has remained at high levels in Oakland over the past few years, there's been a growing call in the city to allocate tens of millions in additional dollars to the police department to hire more cops. And while it's true that Oakland has fewer police officers per capita than similar cities nationwide, public records show that Oakland already dedicates a higher percentage of its budget to its police department than comparable cities with high crime rates. The reason that Oakland has fewer cops yet spends more money than other cities on policing per capita is that its officers are among the highest paid in the nation, according to research from UC Berkeley.

Yet over the past fifteen years, as the police department's spending has consistently grown at a faster rate than the city's general fund budget, Oakland leaders have done little to address OPD's unusually high costs. Instead, politicians have responded by proposing to give the department even more money. Mayor Jean Quan's proposed budget for the next two years aims to hire approximately fifty new police officers, and doing so will require spending another $24 million because of recruiting and training costs. The budget proposal currently under review by the city council would allocate approximately half of the $48.5 million in new revenues that the city estimates it will collect in the next two years to the police department, bringing OPD's share of the city's general purpose fund to 42 percent — a number that is higher than nearly every other city in the country. Under Quan's proposed budget, funds for many other city services would be held flat, or cut in real terms, in order to pay for the police department's latest spending surge.

At the same time, interviews and public records show that the police department has repeatedly wasted resources and failed to enact reforms that could bring down its costs, reduce crime, and decrease the need for more police expenditures. A recent review of the department by leading law enforcement experts criticized OPD for failing to properly focus on solving felonies to lower the city's violent crime rate. Instead, the department has allocated most of its resources over the years toward patrol, a tactic that has failed to reduce crime and thus has fueled demands for more spending on police.

City leaders also have not addressed proposals by community organizations and members of the union SEIU 1021 to civilianize numerous jobs within OPD as way to drive down the price of policing. In addition, if OPD could be brought into compliance with the federal consent decree that still hangs over the department, it likely would produce cost savings for the city, according to those who have worked on the court-mandated reforms over the past decade. Such changes, for example, would eliminate the need to pay federal monitors, outside lawyers, and expensive legal settlements related to police misconduct.

The question of whether Oakland can reduce the cost of policing is one of the biggest ones confronting the city — both now and in the future — yet over the past decade city officials have failed to adequately address it. As a result, if the city continues to direct such a large portion of its revenues to the police department without implementing substantial reforms, critics note that Oakland could find itself in a position of having little to no money for anything else.

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