Oakley considers starting city police department to save money

OAKLEY, Calif. (KTVU) - When a resident in Oakley calls for police, what they actually see at their door is a sheriff's deputy. The city contracts its police services to the Contra Costa Sheriff's Office.

But, city officials are voting Tuesday night whether to end that contract and create the city's own department. This vote is not about any dissatisfaction over the job the sheriff's office is doing, it's about saving the city money.

Oakley is a city of about 40,000 people that two years ago, was rated one of the 50 safest cities in California by a security company. "Oh, it's a wonderful city," says Steve Harland, the owner of Good Scents Florist.

And certainly, part of the safety equation is Oakley's police department. "Unfortunately, there's been a couple occasions where I've had to call them and they've been right here. So, yeah, I think they do a very good job," added Harland.

But the department is actually comprised of Contra Costa County Sheriff's deputies, who are contracted here.

Oakley Mayor Doug Hardcastle says recently it's gotten more and more expensive to contract with the county. "We're happy with the police services and everything, but the prices continue to go up. And when they continue to go up; we're not able to add more police."

Over the past year, city staff studied the idea of ending the contract with the county and starting its own police force that would do most police work, except for certain services such as dispatch and SWAT.

Now, staff is recommending the city council vote to do exactly that. "We're going to start off fresh with our own people, and we're going to design our own retirement where the city can handle it," says Hardcastle.

The city determined that instead of paying the county more than $8.6 million for the services per year, the city can do it on its own for about $7.9 million. That's a savings of $700,000.

"The more money you can save, the better off you'll be, the more money you can have in your coffers, the better off you'll be," said Harland.

City officials say the county has just been saddling Oakley with too much of its unfunded pension liability. "And we just can't afford to continue to pay their bill," says Hardcastle.

Saving money to hire more officers, and for other city services sounds like a good idea to resident Leti Arroyo. "I think it would be great if they could put more money into the parks. Yeah, definitely, just for the kids and stuff."

The sheriff sent a letter to the city last month, which reads like a warning, that the change will be more expensive than city officials expect.

The city council is set to vote on the plan Tuesday night, and the mayor said he has seen little if any opposition to it.