Are CHP Patrols in Oakland Worth It? 

The debate over Oakland's budget may come down to how much money the city should spend on a contract with the California Highway Patrol.

As of early this week, it appeared that the Oakland City Council was on track to reach a compromise on a two-year budget and adopt it this Thursday thanks to proposals made by two sets of councilmembers in the past several days. One was a revised plan issued by Councilmembers Desley Brooks, Noel Gallo, and Larry Reid, and the other was a new proposal from Councilmembers Dan Kalb, Rebecca Kaplan and Lynette Gibson McElhaney. The two plans are very close to one proposed earlier by Council President Pat Kernighan and endorsed by Councilwoman Libby Schaaf. But one of the main differences among the plans is how much money they would allocate to a contract with the California Highway Patrol, which has been helping patrol Oakland streets because of staffing shortages at the Oakland Police Department. But what has been absent from the debate so far is whether the CHP contract has been worth the money.

Mayor Jean Quan and City Administrator Deanna Santana had proposed to spend $2 million each year on the CHP deal for a total of $4 million. The Kernighan proposal would allocate $3 million over two years to the CHP — $2 million in fiscal year 2013-14 and $1 million the following year. And the Kalb-Kaplan-McElhaney plan would allocate $2.6 million total. The latter two plans assume that the city won't need to spend as much on CHP in the second year because OPD projects that it will have more than seven hundred officers in 2015 after graduating four police academies in the next two years.

Brooks, Gallo, and Reid originally proposed to end the CHP contract and use the savings to help pay for raises for non-sworn employees. Under their revised proposal, they would allocate a total of $1 million in one-time funds for the CHP, while still setting aside money for employee raises. City workers, other than police and fire, haven't had a raise in several years and have agreed to pay cuts in the past few years in the form of unpaid furlough days.

Using one-time funds — as the Kalb-Kaplan-McElhaney plan also proposes to do — makes sense for the CHP contract because the city won't need to keep the contract going after it hires more cops. Quan and Kernighan's proposals to use ongoing general fund money, by contrast, are bad ideas because the CHP deal was never intended to last indefinitely. In this case, the one-time funds would come from a partial rebate of the $32.4 million that the city paid the state as the result of the death of redevelopment. The city is expecting to receive about $9.5 million back from the state in these so-called "boomerang" funds.

But regardless of whether the city funds the CHP once or on an ongoing basis, it's unclear if the extra patrols are worth $2 million a year, as there is no solid data showing that they are. And the program isn't cheap: The CHP has assigned just ten officers and two sergeants to patrol city streets four days a week. That works out to about $167,000 per officer. Although that's less than what Oakland pays its own cops on average, the CHP officers also have far fewer responsibilities. Their primary job is to pull over motorists for minor traffic violations, such as driving with tinted windows and not wearing seatbelts.

The other main drawback with the CHP is that the agency is not covered by the federal consent decree that governs Oakland police conduct. As a result, it's unclear whether the CHP has been engaging in racial profiling in its car stops on Oakland streets, which OPD is strictly prohibited from doing. As such, the Brooks-Reid-Gallo plan, which slashes more funding for the CHP contract than the other proposals, appears to be the smarter choice.

In terms of overall Oakland police expenditures, the plans are very similar. They all would increase funding to hire more civilian employees for the department, particularly for criminal investigations. The plans also would increase funding for trash cleanup and illegal-dumping enforcement in the city, which are both badly needed, particularly in areas of East Oakland.

And as for civilian-employee raises, the city appears to have the ability to provide at least a 1-percent ongoing raise, which would cost approximately $2.7 million a year. The council also should consider awarding a one-time bonus to city workers, much like what Oakland teachers recently received under their contract. During the recession, city employees stepped up and agreed to compensation cuts, and now that the economy is rebounding, they deserve a modest pay bump.

The one big disappointment in this year's budget process, however, has been the mayor and the council's unwillingness to publicly call on the Oakland police union to renegotiate its lucrative contract. As the Express has repeatedly noted, Oakland cops receive much higher pay than their counterparts in other agencies nationwide, and as a result, Oakland ends up spending a far higher percentage of its general fund budget on policing than other cities with high crime rates.

However, having said that, the mayor and the council also deserve credit for ignoring calls by groups like Make Oakland Better Now! to boost the size of the police force to eight hundred or nine hundred officers in the next two years. Those proposals were unaffordable and financially irresponsible.

Public Records Reversal

Governor Jerry Brown and state Democratic leaders also deserve credit for reversing course and deciding not to gut the California Public Records Act. As I noted last week, Brown and legislative leaders had quietly slipped a bill into the state budget package that would have eviscerated portions of the open records law. But after fierce criticism from media organizations and good-government groups, the governor and legislators did a 180 and agreed to keep the records act intact. They also said they would push for a ballot measure next year that would enshrine the records law in the state constitution.

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