Last-ditch effort to prevent Oakland police layoffs

Oakland police in riot gear await the arrival of student protestors Thursday, March 4, 2010, in Oakland, Calif. Demonstrations, marches, teach-ins and walkouts are planned nationwide Thursday in what is being called the "March 4th National Day of Action for Public Education." Events are being held at most of California's public colleges and universities to protest budget cuts that have led to canceled classes, faculty furloughs and steep fee hikes. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
July 13, 2010 1:13:37 AM PDT
The jobs of 80 police officers are still on the line in Oakland. A midnight deadline that could have led to the layoffs has now been extended to Tuesday at 5 p.m.

It seems promising that the police and city officials have agreed to continue negotiations. There is a lot riding on these negotiations because public safety is a top priority in Oakland, but so is the budget. This could be the last major hurdle in the city's quest to tackle its deficit of more than $30 million.

An emergency meeting was underway all day on Monday and Police Chief Anthony Batts laid out the consequences of what fewer officers will mean if the officers are laid off. He says it means residents will see police respond to fewer crimes in Oakland and residents will have to report certain crimes online and an officer will not show up to take a report on them. Those crimes include: burglary (if there is no suspect description), theft, grand theft, embezzlement, identity theft, car crashes, attempted auto thefts, surrendering a gun or ammunition, and it will be up to sex offenders to register themselves.

Batts says Oakland needs more officers not less.

"From my data, we have too much demand coming in, even if we were fully budgeted," says Batts. "My bosses tell me what resources I'm going to get and my job is to take what they give me and make it as efficient as possible."

He says many of the same officers who worked the front lines during Oakland's unrest Thursday will be the first to go.

Monday's emergency meeting in the mayor's office started at 9 a.m. and lasted all day.

Police and the city have reached a partial agreement to require officers to pay 9 percent of their salaries toward their pensions, like all other unions in the city. That would save the city almost $8 million. However, the sticking point is that officers want a guarantee that there won't be more layoffs over the next three years and city leaders say they cannot make that promise.

"On top of giving back $30 million last year, we agreed to contribute to our pension. And what we're looking for in return is job security for our members," says Police Officers Association vice president Sgt. Barry Donelan.

"We've offered a one-year, no-layoff, that's what we can afford. The police officers want a three-year commitment, we would love to be able to give it to them, we just can't afford it," says Oakland City Council president Jane Brunner.

The two sides seemed far apart. Batts says the force has already started to restructure the department. Many of that restructuring happened over the weekend. That meant moving officers out from behind the desks to out onto the streets so that if or when these layoffs actually take place, OPD is ready to go.

This is a painful cut because the city worked so hard to build up its police force to the 776 officers it has now.

Brunner says if they cannot get the cuts they need with the police, they may set their sights on the fire department next.

Again, Oakland could lose 80 police officers if it cannot strike a deal by 5 p.m. Tuesday.


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