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St. Louis and Detroit, which both have consistently higher rates of violent crime than Oakland, not only pay less than half of what Oakland does per officer, but also allocate much less as a proportion of their total general fund budgets to policing.
Decades of Sweet Deals
The Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA) is one of the strongest political forces in the city and plays hardball in contract negotiations, knowing that few politicians want to look soft on crime. The union successfully bargained with the city for decades to obtain lucrative increases in base pay, overtime, and pension and healthcare benefits.
The union's political juice inside City Hall is illustrated by the steady rise in OPD's spending as a percentage of the city's total general fund budget. In fiscal year 1996-97, approximately 35 percent of Oakland's general fund was consumed by OPD. Over the following sixteen years, OPD's budget grew to become more than 40 percent of all general fund outlays. The growth in OPD's budget exceeded the rate of growth in the overall general fund in eleven of the sixteen years.
The police union maintains its sweetheart deals with the city with the help of its political action committee, which funds attack ads against politicians the union believes will be unfriendly to its priorities. The union has strongly supported its allies on the Oakland City Council and spends thousands during elections to defeat opponents who are seen as "soft" on crime.
OPOA successfully convinced Oakland's councilmembers and successive mayors in the 1980s through mid-2000s to increase active police officer pay and compensation, and was able to resist cuts to pay and benefits during most economic downturns — even while other city employees were laid off or forced to accept furloughs and other givebacks.
"When you combine the cuts with the effects of inflation, our members have given up 25 percent of their wages and are living at three-quarters of the purchasing power that they had six years ago," said Levin of IFPTE 21. "While civilian members may not even remember what a COLA [cost of living adjustment] looks like, the police received a 4 percent COLA in July of 2008, and are receiving another 4 percent in 2014. So what we're still looking for is the fairness and the balance that the city administration claims it is pursuing."
The biggest single gain obtained by Oakland's cops was a five-year, 27-percent raise awarded by the city council during Mayor Jerry Brown's first term in 2001. Over the years, OPOA also successfully kept its pension contributions at zero, even as police unions in other cities were agreeing to contribute to their retirement plans.
The past two rounds of contract negotiations, in 2007 and 2010, were marked by acrimony and brinksmanship. In 2007, OPOA sent its contract negotiations to a labor arbitrator after declaring an impasse on overhauling the department's overtime and holiday pay rules as well as strict requirements on officer scheduling. The union won and negotiated a two-year contract extension that included a 4 percent pay bump in 2009.
In 2010, OPOA and the city were at loggerheads once again, as the city attempted to close a $30.5 million budget hole. In the middle of that year, the council voted to lay off eighty cops after OPOA refused to contribute anything to its pension plan unless the city guaranteed no layoffs for the next three years. Eventually, the city rehired 22 of the laid-off officers.
The next year, OPOA and the city finally agreed on a four-year contract that included a requirement that police officers contribute 9 percent of their salaries to their pensions — just like the rest of the city's workforce. In return, Oakland agreed not to lay off any officers for the duration of the contract and to give pay bumps of 2 percent in July 2014 and January 2015.
The deal also included slightly lower salaries for new hires — but not low enough to significantly bring down the price of policing. City leaders also have made no public moves this spring toward asking the police union to reopen its contract and help Oakland control costs.
Rashidah Grinage, the executive director of People United for a Better Life in Oakland, a police watchdog group, pointed to the 2010 contract negotiations and subsequent police layoffs as evidence that the majority of OPOA's members care more about their benefits packages than adequately staffing OPD. "Look at what happened when [the city] tried to roll back pay and contribute to their pension plan [in 2010], [the union] said, lay the younger officers off," Grinage said, referring to the OPOA membership voting to lay off eighty junior officers rather than agree to the city's proposed contract. "They caused the understaffing crisis we have because they wouldn't take a cut. The older officers didn't want their retirement benefits to be sacrificed."
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