Posted: 6:26 p.m. Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Oakland proposal presented to solve police understaffing


Oakland Police Department  photo
Oakland Police Department

By Jana Katsuyama

OAKLAND, Calif. —

Police issued a "help wanted" notice Tuesday, calling for candidates to apply for jobs with the Oakland Police Department by the deadline on Friday, May 30th. The call for new recruits comes as city leaders try to address a problem with police understaffing and residents voice their opinions on what would help improve public safety.

"I think more community policing is really the solution," said Martin Quinones, who moved to Oakland from Berkeley last year.

"I'd like to see more police officers hired and on duty," said Barbara Ross a lifelong Oakland resident.

Police commanders gave an update on the staffing situation to the Public Safety Committee Tuesday night. The numbers were sobering.

Just four years ago, the Oakland Police Department had 801 officers. Now, they're budgeted for 707 officers, but city councilors say the actual number on the street is far lower because of people retiring or leaving the department.

Oakland Police commanders told the committee that it is a big challenge trying to predict how many officers will retire or leave and how many new recruits to bring in to fill any vacancies. Right now, their budget estimates are based on an attrition rate of five officers leaving the force every month.

"If we estimate too high on the attrition, then we're hiring people that potentially aren't budgeted. If we're too low, then we're not hiring enough. So it's a balance we try to look at," said Deputy Police Chief Eric Breshears.

Oakland City Council member Libby Schaaf, who is running for mayor, presented a proposal co-authored by Public Safety Committee President Noel Gallo. She addressed the police commanders and said there is a need for the city to have a better system of handling police staffing problems.

"We want you to spend every dollar that we've put into this budget for police, spent on police and so that should be your aim," Schaaf said.

The proposal from Schaaf and Gallo includes five points. First, it would require police to have an early warning system to alert the city of any staffing shortfall as soon as it becomes evident. Second, it would require a shortfall correction process with a mandate for police to develop ways of rectifying any staffing shortfall. It also would mandate more accurate budgeting, fund two police academies, and require an attrition reduction plan to decrease the number of officers leaving or retiring every year.

After discussion, the four committee members Noel Gallo, Libby Schaaf, Dan Kalb and Lynette Gibson-McElhaney voted unanimously to send the proposal to the full City Council for a vote.

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