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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OPOA officials did not respond to our request for comment.

OPD's Mistakes

Not only is spending per officer in Oakland grossly out of step with the rest of the country, but the police department misallocates resources, law enforcement experts say, thereby making the department less effective at reducing crime. This problem, in turn, results in even more calls for additional spending on police.

Over the years, the department has shortchanged its criminal investigations division, which high-priced consultants have repeatedly told the department is a mistake. Instead, OPD has directed the lion's share of its resources to patrolling high-crime areas of the city. In OPD's proposed $203 million budget for fiscal year 2013-14, the department plans to spend $111 million on its Field Operations Division, and just $26 million on criminal investigations.

As the Express reported last fall, OPD's investigations units are mismanaged and overburdened. In 2011, OPD solved just 29 percent of all homicides in the city. In 2012, it solved just 28 percent of the 131 homicides that year. The average homicide solve rate for California police departments is closer to 50 percent (see "Getting Away with Murder," 11/16/12).

The shortcomings of the Criminal Investigations Division were recently examined by the consulting firm headed by William Bratton, the former police chief of New York and Los Angeles. Bratton's team criticized OPD's investigations unit for its centralized structure and recommended that investigators be assigned to local districts in order to respond more quickly to incidents and gain familiarity with specific areas of the city. San Francisco PD follows this model. Bratton also recommended that OPD move the responsibility of investigating gun assaults away from homicide officers in order to lighten their caseloads.

"Local investigations of these crimes, conducted by investigators more familiar with the local shooters, local gangs, and local vendettas would likely result in more solvable cases and more cases with leads, even when the victim is uncooperative," the report stated. "Local investigators, using evidence from eyewitnesses and their own knowledge of the patterns of shootings and retaliation in the area, should be able to develop suspects in a larger number of cases."

Decisions about how to staff the homicide unit also have hampered the OPD's efficacy. Bratton's report determined that homicide was being seriously handicapped by department brass' decision to transfer several experienced sergeants from homicide to patrol. The new personnel, according to Bratton, are inexperienced and do not have the skill set required for their assignment. "The entire homicide unit is in a virtual training mode because many of the investigators assigned to the unit have no previous homicide investigations experience, and some have no previous investigative experience of any kind," the report stated.

OPD also has a dearth of sergeants, who are the field supervisors for the department. This is due in part to the high pay rate awarded to experienced officers. These officers can make a sergeant's pay easily while working overtime or taking on the role of acting sergeant, a position that doesn't require the same amount of testing or training as a full-fledged sergeant.

The lack of long-term, in-depth investigations also is seriously impacting OPD's ability to reduce crime. In April, more than three hundred OPD officers and federal agents raided a public housing complex in West Oakland, searching for drugs and guns. But the massive operation only resulted in the arrests of five people and the seizure of a relatively small amount of drugs. A follow-up raid resulted in several more arrests and the seizure of weapons, high-capacity magazines, heroin worth between $30,000 to $50,000 on the street, and $1,600 in cash, but an officer speaking on condition of anonymity told the Express that the operation was the result of a hasty investigation that lacked the level of depth and scrutiny needed to be truly successful.

The department's dysfunction also is driving away experienced officers with just the sort of expertise OPD needs to solve crimes. Sergeant Rich Andreotti, a 43-year-old San Francisco native who won an award from the Alameda County District Attorney's Office in 2011 for uncovering a plot to murder a witness, transferred last month to the San Francisco Police Department as an officer. And Sergeant Kyle Thomas, another well-respected supervisor who is trained as a helicopter pilot, also transferred over to SFPD in April as an officer.

Police like Andreotti and Thomas are the sort of experienced and competent supervisors that OPD needs in order to keep and nurture younger officers in order for the department to function effectively. Instead, officers like these are transferring to neighboring departments — and taking demotions to do it — rather than enduring OPD's dysfunction.

Rebalancing the Budget

One way to rein in the cost of cops in Oakland is to have lower-paid civilians handle jobs within OPD that do not require a highly paid officer to perform. "We reviewed positions within OPD five years ago and found more than 42 jobs that could be civilianized for a cost savings of millions," explained Jeff Hayman, a police evidence technician who worked with the union SEIU 1021 to survey OPD's payroll.

According to Hayman, civilianization of various jobs not only would mean savings on salaries shifted from expensive cops to cheaper civilian workers, it would also mean that OPD officers would rack up fewer forms of special compensation. Hayman said that OPD officers receive an extra 5 percent in pay above their base salaries just for working as evidence technicians, rather than fulfilling their normal roles.

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