New Oakland mayor takes aim at police pensions

January 4, 2011 6:10:55 PM PST
Oakland's new mayor, Jean Quan, started her first full day at work, meeting with the police force, before dawn. She wants to talk about police pensions. They want the city to re-hire officers laid off last year. The mayor did not take questions from the rank and file.

Quan said she didn't take questions on Tuesday because this was simply supposed to be a meet and greet. She said she wanted to get these officers that she was meeting with first thing in the morning out on the streets, but that's the common complaint here in Oakland -- there aren't enough officers out there.

It was only hours into her first full day as mayor and Quan was all smiles as she left police headquarters. But tensions over a heated election campaign and the police union that supported her opponent still seem to run deep.

"I actually like the police. They're the ones that spent a couple hundred thousand dollars to beat me up," said Quan.

Quan didn't take questions from the rank and file, but the question on the minds of many in this city is whether the officers laid off last year will be rehired as a member of the City Council, Quan voted for the layoffs.

"It's an interesting sign on the second day of your inauguration to be come into the police department. I'm not sure what message is, but I'm coming into this with an open mind," said Police Union President Dom Arotzarena.

Quan wants police to pay 9 percent of their salaries into their pensions officers want a guarantee of no more job cuts.

"I can't just decimate the parks and rec and the libraries so the union doesn't have to pay their pensions. As long as Oakland is the only city where the officers don't pay anything into their pensions, it's going to be hard to keep the number of police officers that we need on the street," said Quan.

"We've always been willing to talk about pensions and stuff like that, but it's just the idea that we have to some fairness here," said Arotzarena. "We've been doing a pretty good job with less for a long time, but I think we can be better, this can be a safer city and really it is up the elected officials to make it that way."

Many of the 80 who were laid off this summer are still out of work.

"I served two and a half years as a patrol officer in East Oakland," said Gordon Dorham, a laid off officer.

Dorham was alongside police union reps when they announced the layoffs in July.

He's holding out hope that the city where he wants to be a police officer will soon call back with an offer of a new job.

"I think there's a part of me that wants to believe that at some point I'll have the opportunity to go back to Oakland and I think that part of me is staying alive because I also know the citizens of Oakland need more police officers," said Dorham.

Now that she's mayor, Quan says she plans to ask the city council as soon as next week to reopen negotiations with the Police Officer's Association. Oakland's police force is now down to 656 officers; that's about 175 fewer officers than two years ago.