Throwing More Money at Police 

Oakland already directs a larger percentage of its budget to police than comparable cities nationwide, yet it's planning to spend even more money without demanding reforms.

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OPD base salaries are not out of line with the pay offered by other Bay Area cities — although they're much higher than comparable cities nationwide. California's high cost of living results in local police departments offering bigger paychecks. But where Oakland's cops really drive up the expense is in overtime and other forms of special compensation.

Last year, 79 OPD officers earned 50 percent or more above their annual salaries just from overtime payments. Five OPD officers actually earned more in overtime than they did from their salary. In one case, an officer's annual salary of $98,000 was dwarfed by overtime pay of $164,000. This officer's total compensation added up to $337,000 (the officer's identity is not disclosed in OPD's payroll data). Approximately 600 OPD officers booked some amount of overtime in 2012, adding up to a departmental total of $15 million. Quan's proposed budget for the next two years assumes at least a $2 million increase in officer overtime pay so that, in 2015, the city expects to spend $17 million.

Retirement and medical benefits also drive up costs for the city's entire workforce. But again, OPD's costs have outpaced the rest of the city. According to public records, medical insurance costs for civilian employees have risen 39 percent since 2006. But for OPD's sworn officers, medical costs have jumped 50 percent during the same period. In 2012, fringe benefits paid to OPD officers — including medical insurance, workers compensation, dental and vision insurance, disability, and unemployment — added up to $36 million, while the rest of the city's workforce only received $20 million.

In fact, the total of all fringe benefits paid to OPD officers is actually 2.7 times larger than the entire retirement contribution the city must make for the rest of its civilian workforce. So even while the city administration points to rising CalPERS contributions as a growing expense in coming years, OPD officers' fringe benefits will still be more expensive. Overtime paid to OPD officers will remain roughly equal to the total retirement contributions the city must pay into CalPERS for its civilian employees — $16 million and $17 million for 2014 and 2015.

Jeff Levin of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers also noted that the city's civilian workforce has largely absorbed increased city contribution rates for CalPERS in recent years. "The rate that PERS charges the city for the employers' share of retirement has risen by 5 percent of employees' salaries, but five years ago civilian employees agreed to increase their contribution by that same 5 percent," he said. "As a result, the city saw no increase in its total contribution rate for civilian pensions because the employees absorbed all of it."

What Other Cities Do

UC Berkeley School of Law Professor Justin McCrary, who is also an economist, has studied the cost of police officers in hundreds of US cities. McCrary's data shows that Oakland's cops each cost about $220,000 annually. However, this figure does not factor in the cost of the multimillion-dollar police academies Oakland must run to train new recruits. Even so, McCrary's estimate is $45,000 higher than what OPD's payroll data shows as the average compensation for its current officers. McCrary said that factoring in the cost of equipping and supporting each officer is necessary to determine the true price tag attached to each cop a city employs.

McCrary's data also reveals that only fifteen other cities face higher costs per cops, and half of these cities are much wealthier per capita than Oakland, including Sunnyvale, Berkeley, and Palo Alto. All are, perhaps unsurprisingly, in California.

For Oakland's true peers — mid-sized cities with high crime rates and relatively weak tax bases due to deindustrialization and suburban flight, like St. Louis, Memphis, and Atlanta — the per officer price-tag is less than half of what Oakland currently pays. St. Louis officers cost only $104,000 annually. Cops in Memphis and Atlanta cost just $99,000 and $97,000, respectively. As a result, those cities can afford to hire more officers per capita while spending less money overall on policing than Oakland. Even other cities with high costs of living, such as New York and Boston, pay officers much less than Oakland does.

McCrary, who has advocated for increasing Oakland's police officer count as a means of reducing crime, acknowledges the prohibitive cost of hiring cops in Oakland. In a recent interview, he told us that Oakland's inability to increase police officer levels is "fundamentally a revenue problem."

"It's naive to think Oakland itself could fund such an increase in revenue to pay for this," he said of hiring lots more police. "The funds would have to come from state government because Oakland has no capacity to raise this."

The result of all of this is that Oakland spends a far higher percentage of its tax dollars on policing than nearly any other city in the nation. A survey of similar cities we conducted for this report shows that Oakland's cops capture a far larger share of the budget pie than cities of comparable size and with similarly high rates of violent crime.

In the 2010-11 fiscal year, Oakland shelled out 44 percent of its general fund to pay for policing. Most of this was used to pay officer salaries, overtime, and benefits. The only city of similar size with significant violent crime we could find that spends a similar proportion of its general fund budget on cops was Cleveland. That city allocated approximately 37 percent of its budget dollars to policing that year. Had Cleveland spent at Oakland's level of 44 percent, it would have meant increasing its police budget by $19 million — an expenditure that would have required cuts to other city services. And because Cleveland's cost per officer, according to McCrary's data, is only $95,000, Cleveland can purchase a lot more police services with a lot less money.

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