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The High Costs of Outsourcing Police

Nine out of ten Oakland cops live outside the city — a fact that costs Oakland nearly $200 million in lost revenues a year, and may explain OPD's disconnect with the people it's supposed to serve and protect. 

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The nine-year-old federal consent decree stemming from The Riders scandal is the strongest push for reform ever placed upon the Oakland Police Department. The consent decree requires sweeping changes to investigations, training, disciplinary proceedings, as well as a system for tracking the behavior of problem officers.

However, in its current form, the consent decree and the court monitor operating under Judge Henderson lack any input or control over OPD's hiring and firing policies. The consent decree has led to no meaningful changes of how Oakland recruits officers, and does not address the underlying issue that so many cops live outside the city.

The federal court's role could take a drastic turn should Henderson decide later this year to place OPD in federal receivership, a step never before taken in American history. If that were to happen, OPD would be controlled by a special master appointed by Henderson who would presumably have final say over employment and disciplinary matters, and could make reform demands that address deeper structural problems.

A danger, however, is that the federal receiver could, as a last-ditch effort to increase OPD's ranks and capabilities, force Oakland to spend even more on its police services — a problematic solution given that Oakland already spends far more on its police than cities of comparable size.

Last year, Oakland spent $155 million on its police department, amounting to about 40 percent of the city's total general fund budget. By comparison, San Jose spent only 26 percent of its general fund on police services. Cities of more comparable size to Oakland such as Long Beach, Sacramento, and Fresno also spent less on their cops. Long Beach and Sacramento expended 7 and 17 percent of their general funds on policing, respectively, while Fresno used up about 29 percent of its general fund budget on cops. The smaller cities of the East Bay where many OPD officers live also spend much less of their total budgets on cops. San Leandro allocated 24 percent for its cops, while Tracy spent 18 percent of its total funds.

Oakland's sworn police personnel also are among the city's highest-paid employees: officer salary, health benefits, and pension payments totaled $119 million in fiscal year 2010-11, the most recent year for which data was available. That worked out to about $183,000 per cop.

There also are twelve OPD sworn officers who earned more than $300,000 last year in total employee compensation (including base salary, overtime and other payments, employer pension contributions, and health care benefits). None of these officers are in OPD's command staff: All but four of them are sergeants, seven of whom work as investigators in the department's Major Crimes Unit. Only two of OPD's top earners — Lieutenant Trevelyon Jones ($359,145) and Sergeant Sean Fleming ($322,591) live in Oakland.

The rest of OPD's top earners are, in several ways, illustrative of the problems afflicting the department. For example, Sergeant Randell Wingate (OPD's highest paid officer in fiscal year 2010-11 with a total compensation of $423,246) is a Green Beret veteran who joined OPD in 1993 at age nineteen. Wingate has been repeatedly decorated over the course of his law enforcement and military career. Despite his service record, OPD tried to fire him in 2008 for his role in two incidents: an alleged assault and his attempt to recover a cell phone lost by a fellow officer during a West Oakland narcotics arrest in 2007. Wingate, who lives in Brentwood, was found to have violated OPD policy during the search for the officer's lost cell phone, and then-Chief Wayne Tucker attempted to have him terminated in April 2008, but the sergeant prevailed in front of an arbitrator in March 2010 and was reinstated. Oakland also paid out $350,000 in 2008 to settle a lawsuit against Wingate alleging that he assaulted and injured a man during a September 2005 tailgating party near the Oakland Coliseum.

Many OPD officers are like Wingate — highly paid individuals who don't live in the city and have little to no connection with the everyday life of Oaklanders.

And since most of Oakland's police budget is expended is spent on payroll — about $144 million, counting salaries, overtime, health benefits, and pension costs — this means that the city's unusually large commitment to funding police services is also an unusually large drain on tax dollars that are unlikely to have any positive impact on the local economy. That's because cops don't buy homes in Oakland, and presumably do much of their shopping outside of the city near to where they live.

Our estimate that $126 million in employee compensation and another $60 million in PFRS benefits, for a total of $186 million, left Oakland in the 2010-2011 fiscal year derives from OPD's own data, along with records obtained from the city's retirement office. This sum does not count OPD procurement, settlements related to officer misconduct, or other means by which city tax dollars are leaving Oakland through its police department.

"The community desperately needs this money here to support the local economy," said Ella Baker Center's Ramos. She called this export of city funds "alarming," adding that "Oakland is obviously being depleted of scarce resources."

Section 50083 of the California Government Code strictly forbids localities like Oakland from imposing blanket residency requirements on their employees: "No local agency or district shall require that its employees be residents of such local agency or district," reads the law. The code does allow cities to require that certain types of employees, such as public safety officers, including police and fire, "reside within a reasonable and specific distance of their place of employment or other designated location," but just what constitutes a "reasonable" distance does not appear to have been specified by Oakland's officials.

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