Officials demand action on staffing beleaguered Calif. department
Oakland City Council members called on leaders to fully staff the city's department and develop an "action plan" to address low morale
By Will Kane
San Francisco Chronicle
OAKLAND, Calif. — Two influential members of Oakland's City Council demanded Tuesday that Mayor Jean Quan and City Administrator Fred Blackwell fully staff the city's beleaguered Police Department and develop an "action plan" to address low morale among officers.
Quan and Blackwell have not aggressively recruited new police officers or stopped veteran officers from retiring, leaving the city perilously short of officers to respond to 911 calls, said Councilwoman Libby Schaaf and Councilman Noel Gallo. Schaaf is challenging Quan in the mayor's race.
In the current budget, Oakland's City Council set aside enough money to pay for 675 police officers, but as of Tuesday the city employs 649 sworn officers.
The 26-officer gap is infuriating, said Schaaf, a member of the Public Safety Committee.
"Oaklanders need to know that a cop will come when they call, no one has that (belief) yet," Schaaf said. "We need to have every officer we can afford working."
Gallo and Schaaf called on the city to develop an early-warning system to alert staff of a shortage before it becomes a crisis, fund a new police academy, provide a full accounting of the costs to hire new police officers and commission a study to address the high number of Oakland police officers who are retiring or leaving to work in other departments.
"It is really frustrating to see that mounting shortfall develop and nothing be done about it," Gallo said, adding that he has thought the Police Department had been "poorly managed for the last several years."
"Let me make it very plain," Gallo added. "For me, it is really a city administration misuse of our trust."
Quan, in a statement, said hiring more police officers was one of her highest priorities, adding that she had already asked the council to pay for an entire new police academy later this year and fund the early stages of another academy next year.
"I'm glad to know we'll have support for our proposal to fund additional police academies this year and next year, and I look forward to working with the City Council to fund our public safety priorities," Quan said.
"When I took office, the city hadn't held a police academy in two years, and it's taken time to rebuild our economy and restore our recruitment and training programs," Quan said. "The good news is we've turned the corner and we're picking up steam."
Quan pointed to the 47 recruits who graduated from the police academy in April and the 110 cadets who are currently in three different academies and will join the police force in the coming months.
Sean Maher, Quan's spokesman, said the city is also seeing "encouraging signs" in the mayor's efforts to retain long-time officers, including buying new police cars and trying to end mandatory overtime shifts.
Barry Donelan, head of the Oakland Police Officers Association, said city leaders are not giving police officers the "support and resources to do their job, and the frustration shows."
"The department and the city have been doing a good job of hiring police officers to close that gap," Donelan said.
"But what they haven't been doing is a good job of retaining officers."
Copyright 2014 the San Francisco Chronicle