Escorts for Hire 

Putting airport cops back on the streets won't affect crime, an OPD sergeant claims; and besides, dignitaries need coddling.

If you're a cop in a city facing a chronic shortage of officers and out-of-control crime, would you: A. Apply to be a homicide investigator; B. Become a patrol officer, responding to 911 calls; C. Put in for a cushy job at the airport, escorting politicians to their limos?

If you're Oakland Police Sergeant David Cronin, then C is definitely your choice. In fact, judging from a terse e-mail Cronin sent to Mayor Ron Dellums and members of the city council, he believes C may be an Oakland cop's highest calling.

Cronin, as you might have guessed, was assigned to Oakland International Airport, serving on a security detail. But two weeks ago he and a group of fourteen other officers were reassigned to patrol duty in a move sanctioned by Dellums and several council members. The reasoning was simple: The airport is already patrolled by federal security officers, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, and a private security firm. As a result, it made no sense to have cops there when they were needed on city streets.

Cronin felt otherwise. According to his June 19 e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by Full Disclosure, redeploying officers from the airport will have a "negligible" impact on crime. "To think that a few senior officers working patrol will have an impact on crime in our community indicates to me that the council has no understanding of the root causes of crime in Oakland and the impact patrol officers have on it," Cronin wrote in his missive, which he also sent to Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Jane Brunner. "To think that these officers are going to have a significant impact on crime in Oakland is just short cited [sic]."

These officers are better off at the airport where they are "truly practicing community policing," he argued. "My feeling is that you probably really do not have an understanding of what the airport unit actually does and how they contribute in a positive way to [a] city that has earned a less than hospitable or positive reputation."

So just what are these vital contributions? "Just this weekend we escorted Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to her aircraft," Cronin explained. "Two hours later we escorted California Supreme Court Justice [Ronald] George and his wife from their aircraft to their vehicle."

And those dignitaries appreciated the personal attention. "Last year President Jimmy Carter's staff sent a letter recognizing the professionalism President and Mrs. Carter received as they passed through our airport," Cronin wrote. "These are just three high-profile examples of the quality and seriousness of the job the airport officers do each day."

De La Fuente, who has been on the council fifteen years and has received plenty of complaints about reassignments, said he was nevertheless surprised to hear a police sergeant claiming that cops should be escorting dignitaries rather than fighting crime. "Obviously it's more important to have more cops on the streets," he said. "We're having more assaults, more robberies, every day."

Cronin, who also works at the city's animal shelter, said in an interview that people underestimate the positive role cops play when they help confused passengers. "We provide incredible customer service," he said. He added that he only mentioned the dignitaries to impress the council.

But Cronin failed to impress the mayor. "I don't think this person's e-mail does a service to the force," Dellums spokeswoman Karen Stevenson said. "Most of the officers are very dedicated."

Even the airport's commanding officer, Oakland Police Lieutenant Edward Poulson, who was copied on the e-mail, distanced himself from Cronin. "Having more officers on patrol is a good thing," he said. "The more officers you have on patrol, the better response time you'll have and you'll reduce crime."

It also should reduce the cost to taxpayers. Although the Port of Oakland paid the cops to be at the airport, their presence resulted in fewer officers patrolling city streets. That in turn, forced police brass to use more overtime to fight crime, helping send the department's overtime costs through the roof. According to a report last week by Chief Wayne Tucker, all seven-hundred-plus sworn officers in the department have worked at least one overtime shift every third week for a year. Total overtime costs, he said, were expected to reach an eye-popping $26.5 million by June 30 — about $14.7 million over budget.

The redeployment of police from the airport should cut some of that total next year. And air travelers won't suffer. In fact, Oakland cops have never been needed at the airport — their assignment there was based more on pride than fear of terrorist attacks.

After September 11, the port decided to beef up security by hiring the county sheriff's office, thereby making some Oakland police officials jealous. The airport, after all, is in Oakland, and from their perspective it should be patrolled by the OPD. So after some behind-the-scenes wrangling between city and port officials, the port agreed to split the job between the OPD and the sheriff's office. In his e-mail, Cronin called it "a shame" that "the airport is Oakland's Airport however no Oakland officers will be present."

The real shame, sergeant, is that city taxpayers paid you $172,116 for fiscal year 2005-06 — including $71,540 in overtime.

Perata Spending Targeted

A pro-term-limits group filed a complaint last week against state Senate boss Don Perata, alleging that his extensive use of campaign cash on parties and high-end lifestyle expenditures was illegal. The California Term Limits Defense Fund based its complaint against Perata on the Express' in-depth investigation "Living Large," published May 23. The official complaint against the state Senate president pro tem was lodged with the California Fair Political Practices Commission in Sacramento.

As reported in these pages, Perata spent more than $1 million of campaign funds over the past ten years on lifestyle-related expenditures, including fancy dinners, posh hotels, and hosting annual golf tournaments. "It's amazing; it's so blatant," said Bob Adney, executive director of the term limits group. "We think it's a total disregard for campaign finance law." The FPPC has two weeks to decide whether to fully investigate the complaint. The term-limits group strongly opposes Perata's plan to put a statewide measure before voters in February asking them to relax term limits. The measure would give Perata a shot at four more years in the Senate.

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