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Dellums’ Oakland Police Plan Gaining Momentum

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday February 29, 2008

With much less rancor than was widely anticipated, the Oakland City Council’s four-member Public Safety Committee unanimously approved Mayor Ron Dellums’ Augmented Police Recruitment Program Tuesday night with few alterations.  

If the plan passes the full council next week, as it is now favored to do, it would give the mayor one of the biggest political victories of his year-long term, ranking with the settlement of the Waste Man-agement workers lockout, the selection of Margaret Gordon for the Port Commission, and the arbitrator’s decision in the police 12-hour day negotiations. 

But what the ultimate cost is to be—both politically to the mayor and financially to the city’s general fund—has yet to be determined. 

“I applaud the actions taken last night. We are happy to enhance our plan based on the amendments proposed from Committee members and move it forward to the full Council,” Dellums said in a prepared statement today. “We are committed to working together to get this done.” 

To meet his State of the City pledge of having the Oakland Police Department reach full strength by the end of the year, Dellums and Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker propose using $7.7 million in carryover Measure Y violence prevention bond money to fund an ambitious, four-point police recruitment and retention program.  

The proposal asks for $3.3 million to run four police academies this year, twice the currently allocated number, with two of them operated for the first time by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department rather than the Oakland Police Department itself. Some $1.5 million would go to advertising and marketing to attract recruits, and $1.2 million to administrative support for expediting the police recruit application and selection process.. 

In the 2004 vote on Measure Y, Oakland voters authorized an increase of police force strength to 803, to include 63 officers assigned specifically to community policing objectives. But since that time, in large part because of high retirement rates, the department has never been able to fully staff either its regular patrol staff or its community policing component. With concern over crime and violence rising sharply in Oakland in recent months, “more police” has become a potent political issue in the city, particularly in a year when five of the eight City Council seats are up for re-election. 

On Tuesday, Councilmember Jean Quan, chair of Council’s Finance Committee, one of the principal co-authors of Measure Y and not a candidate for re-election herself, proposed passage of the mayor’s plan with three amendments: pare down the advertising budget, put some of the plan’s money into bonuses to attract new police recruits, and divide the cost in some yet-to-be-determined way between Measure Y and the city’s general fund. 

“I believe having a full-staffed police force is a top priority,” Quan said. “I don’t think we can wait.” 


Committee members passed  

Quan’s motion by consensus 

The Public Safety Committee’s decision came a day after the Measure Y Oversight Committee voted overwhelmingly, 8-1, to reject using Measure Y funds for the entire recruitment proposal and to send the proposal back to the mayor and his staff for a more appropriate funding breakdown between Measure Y and the general fund. 

Controversy over the mayor’s police augmentation plan began immediately after it was introduced directly to the full Council last week on an expedited basis, bypassing both the Council Public Safety and Measure Y Oversight committees.  

At last week’s council meeting, Councilmember Nancy Nadel, who is in a tough re-election campaign in the third district in which crime, violence, and police issues are expected to play a major role, said, “I’m in a mode to try to solve the problem, to try to take the politics out of it. But it seems like the mayor wants to place himself separate from the council and say that this is his proposal. I resent that type of politics coming out of this.”  

The council voted to send the proposal back to the two committees for vetting, setting up this week’s back-to-back discussions. 

At Monday’s Measure Y Oversight Committee meeting, committee members generally agreed that the police augmentation plan was necessary, but differed sharply over whether some or all of the money should come from Measure Y funds. 

Questioning of city staff members over the plan by committee members was so sharp that at one point, City Administrator Deborah Edgerly told members, “I’m not going to try to convince you. We’re going to have to agree to disagree on this.” 

After committee chair Maya Dillard Smith failed to get a commitment from Chief Tucker that the first officers hired in the recruitment blitz would fully fill the Measure Y-mandated community policing slots and got staff to admit that only Measure Y funds—not city general funds—were planned for the media blitz to hire both Measure Y and non-Measure Y officers, the committee voted to reject the proposal’s funding mechanism and send it back to the mayor’s office for further refinement. Only mayoral appointee Ron Owens voted in favor of the proposal.  

Two other mayoral appointees, Nicole Lee and Donald Blevins, voted with the majority to send the proposal back. The eleven-member oversight committee consists of three mayoral appointees and one apiece chosen by City Council’s eight members. 

While the police augmentation proposal did considerably better at the following day’s Council Public Safety Committee, the political problems surrounding the proposal were just under the surface. 

During public comment period, when former Oakland School Board member Sylvester Hodges told committee members that he hoped “the mayor and the council can get together on something you both support,” committee chair Reid told him pointedly “communication is a two-way street.”  

In case that was subject to misunderstanding, Reid later said, “I hate that this is being rushed and that we’re being backed into a corner to have to act as if we are reacting.” And referring back to his comments to Hodges about the mayor and the council working together, he added, “this needs to be seen as a partnership.”  

Reid then said he was going to stop talking “before I put my foot in my mouth.” 

At the Public Safety Committee meeting, Measure Y Chair Dillard Smith presented a PowerPoint presentation that noted, in part, that “the [oversight] Committee voted 8-1 not to approve the proposed request for $7.7 million of Measure Y funding associated with the PRP because the current proposal using Measure Y money is illegal and fiscally irresponsible.”  

The “illegal and fiscally irresponsible” portion did not appear in a reporter’s notes of the oversight committee action, and echo almost exactly the criticisms Dillard Smith herself made of the plan when it first came before the City Council a week before, but official minutes of the meeting have not yet been released to confirm whether that was the language of the motion. 

But Reid’s comments, and Dillard Smith’s continued opposition, point out the potential political cost of the impending augmentation plan victory. Dellums has been successful in his long political career in large part by sharing victories with friends and opponents and not unnecessarily embarrassing or antagonizing political enemies. That is, in fact, the hallmark of his political style. But the campaign for the police augmentation plan was carried out in a decidedly un-Dellums way, taking the credit for himself and initially bypassing (and, therefore, embarrassing) key committees.  

The 8-1 vote to reject the plan’s funding mechanism at the Measure Y Oversight Committee means the mayor has some political fences to mend on that committee, particularly as he indicated he may have designs in the future to try to revamp the way the committee apportions its money out to violence prevention groups. 

There are other indications that the mayor—who has been enduring withering criticism from the center-right since his election, a group that largely did not vote for him a year and a half ago—may have opened himself up to problems from community policing supporters. Two prominent members of the mayor’s Citizen Task Force on Public Safety and the Community Policing Advisory Board, Colleen Brown and Don Link, criticized the funding of the plan by Measure Y, with Link providing a detailed written critique that called the $1.5 million advertising campaign “probably a waste of money” and the use of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Academy “overly expensive and problematic.” 

And the mayor has left himself something of a political and budget minefield to travel through in the Council as well. 

In supporting Quan’s motion to approve the augmentation plan, Nadel noted that funding the proposal from the general fund will mean budget cuts during a year when a deficit is already going to force such cuts, adding pointedly that “the mayor needs to come back to us with his ideas on what we will have to cut to make up for the expense to the general fund” made necessary by the augmentation plan.