Oakland PD explains alarming absentees

March 3, 2008 10:23:44 PM PST
It is tough to fight crime when on any given day, four out of 10 officers scheduled for work are not out there on the streets. That's the problem in Oakland, and now the top brass is trying to figure out what needs to change. ABC7 News talked with the police chief who will be taking his case for additional officers back to the council on Tuesday.

"It's not an acceptable number at all. I think it's way higher than what we want it to be," says Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker.

Tucker is keenly aware of the numbers from a recent arbitrator report outlining an absenteeism rate of almost 40 percent.

Of the 256 officers in the patrol division, 134 officers were scheduled to work on any given day, and 52 on any given day were absent. However, only three were out due to illness. The vast majority were missing due to training, comp time or vacation time, and disability leave for work-related injuries.

"It's much more difficult to function with a 40 percent vacancy rate for assigned patrol units -- that's one of the things that accounts for us being so delayed in responding. It accounts for enormous amounts of overtime that we've required our staff to work," says Tucker.

"We need to inquire into every single reason that they're not out there, and some of those might be good reasons -- the training, the vacation -- that kind of thing is going to happen, but it's a management issue and we need to figure out how to manage our resources better," says Pat Kernighan with the Oakland City Council.

The Oakland Police Department says they're addressing the problem already. Recruiting new officers is one of the biggest challenges. This year, they restructured patrols so that officers work 12-hour shifts and have more days off.

"If you look at the training issue for us, I think we've managed as a part of this reorganization and new compressed work schedule, many of the trainings go on days off or partial days off, so that we're not taking them off the street," says Tucker.

Oakland aims to cut absenteeism in half from 39 percent to 17 percent of daily patrols.

Right now, current data on absenteeism is being collected in the department and a preliminary report will be given to the Oakland City Council next month. At the same time, 25 new recruits are expected to come on board the patrol division. By the end of this year, an additional 100 badly needed recruits will be hired.

"We are feeling the heat that the crime is too high right now," says Kernighan.