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Oakland Police Plan Delayed By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday March 07, 2006

An Oakland City Councilmember said Saturday that the Chief of the Oakland Police Department has a plan to almost triple the number of police officers on Oakland streets at peak crime periods, but said that implementation of the plan is being delayed by Mayor Jerry Brown and City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente because of opposition from the Oakland Police Officers Association labor union. 

The proposed plan would raise the number of available, on-call police officers from 35 to 84 at times when crime in the city is the highest, including weekend nights and early mornings. 

District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks said that Brown, who is running for California Attorney General in the June primary, and De La Fuente, who is running to succeed Brown as mayor, “think that it is more important to get the police officers’ endorsement in their political races than to get more police officers on the streets. Shame on them. I am always amazed at the self-dealing going on at City Hall. But this has reached a new low.” 

Both Brown and De La Fuente are in difficult races, with Brown pitted against Los Angeles District Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and De La Fuente with two major opponents, City Councilmember Nancy Nadel and former Oakland-Berkeley Congressmember Ron Dellums. 

Neither Brown, De La Fuente, nor Oakland Police Officers Association President Bob Valladon responded to calls requesting a comment on Councilmember Brooks’ charges. 

Brooks said that the police officers’ union opposes the chief’s proposed deployment plan because it would virtually eliminate police overtime payments, which have become a staple in Oakland police paychecks. 

“But that’s $12 million in overtime costs out of our budget that we could use for other needs in the city,” Brooks said. 

The councilmember, who represents one of the areas hit hardest by the city’s recent spike in violent crime, made the charges at Frick Middle School in East Oakland during a police-community meeting sponsored by the People United For a Better Oakland community organization (PUEBLO). 

She said she expects to raise the issue again at the next Oakland City Council meeting, scheduled for tonight (Tuesday) at 7 p.m. at Oakland City Hall on the corner of 14th Street and Broadway. 

Police Chief Wayne Tucker, who also spoke at the PUEBLO meeting, confirmed the existence of the deployment plan and blamed its delay on the OPOA. 

“I have the power to implement the plan on my own authority,” Tucker said, “but under the ‘meet and confer’ provisions of the union contract, I have to get the approval of the union. I’m pushing for it. It would not take us long to implement.” 

Tucker was not asked if Brown or De La Fuente had a hand in delaying the implementation of the patrol deployment plan. 

Police overtime is an enormous budget and political issue in Oakland. Last June, the San Jose Mercury News reported that police overtime was running at $6 million in fiscal year 2004-05, 50 percent over budget, with the city auditor asking the grand jury to investigate the problem and, according to the article, “to look specifically into whether top officials of the city’s powerful police union are driving overtime costs and blocking reforms to reduce them.” 

The Mercury News reported that public access to Oakland employee records showed that two top police union officials had taken home more than $300,000 in overtime pay since 2000. That included $71,470 in overtime for police union president Valladon. 

“We are paying huge amounts of overtime and it’s killing us,” the paper quoted Council President De La Fuente as saying at the time. De La Fuente had earlier called for an outside audit of Oakland police overtime costs. 

At the same time, Oakland has been hit by a spike in violent crime in recent months—including 33 murders in the last three months of 2005, 19 in the first two months of 2006, and five more in the first week of March—and residents have complained of long delays in police patrol responses to 911 calls. 

Tucker said Saturday that “the measure of violent crime is not homicides but street robberies and assaults with firearms. Those types of violent crimes are increasing, and way off the charts from this time last year.” Tucker told meeting participants “the emerging violence in Oakland is of grave concern to us.” 

But Tucker blamed the delays in police response to reported crimes not on the number of Oakland police officers, but on the way patrols have been organized. 

“We presently have 803 sworn OPD officers,” Tucker said, “that’s pretty rich staffing for a city of this size. I won’t stand up here today and say that we are understaffed. We’re not. The problem is in the way our police are being deployed.” 

That was a radical change from the assertions by police and city officials during the Measure Y violence abatement bond campaign in 2004, when Oakland voters were told repeatedly that the Oakland Police Department was severely understaffed, and the police-to-citizen ratio was significantly lower than other comparable cities. Tucker was not a member of the Oakland Police Department in 2004. 

Under the City of Oakland’s current police deployment, Oakland police patrol officers work in standard eight-hour, five-day-per-week shifts, with equal staffing for all hours throughout the week. 

But according to Chief Tucker’s proposed “Patrol Division Deployment Plan,” prepared by Lt. P. Sarna, current deployment leads to periods—such as midnight, when the shifts change—when the numbers of crimes are rising while the numbers of police on the streets are not. Tucker’s report notes that “this places the department in a catch-up mode for a significant period of each time each shift.” 

The report called such an across-the-board even deployment, regardless of the crime rate at any given hour, “inefficient,” and said that it left “beat officers ... severely overburdened during the period of the highest crime workload. ... Present deployment clearly violates the simple rule of ‘being there when the need is greatest.’” 

By contrast, Tucker proposes to divide police patrols into three overlapping shifts—five days a week for eight hours a day, four days a week for 10 hours a day, and three days a week for 12 hours a day—so that patrols could be increased at peak crime rates and decreased at other times, with no overtime costs. 

“We need to get as many blue suits out on the streets as we can,” Tucker told participants at Saturday’s meeting. “We’re working on that.”›