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Chief Wants Better Policing, New Taxes

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday March 04, 2008

Berkeley’s facing neither layoffs nor program cuts in the next fiscal year, but without taxpayers ponying up to pay for them, there will be no new services, City Manager Phil Kamlarz told the City Council last week. 

Also at the Feb. 26 meeting, in conjunction with a workshop on policing methodology and possible new taxes for police, the council heard from Rana Sampson, a consultant with the San Diego-based Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, a Department of Justice-funded organization.  

Sampson, spouse of the mayor of San Diego, has been a police officer and holds a law degree from Harvard. She discussed Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) with the council for about 50 minutes and received a consulting fee of $1,200, plus travel expenses, according to budget manager Tracy Vessely. 

With property-based revenue tanking—the number of January home sales showed a 68.9 percent drop over last year according to a Feb. 26 city manager report—only last year’s windfall $2 million in additional transfer taxes from Patrick Kennedy’s property sales has made up the difference.  

And so at midyear, the budget appears as if it will be balanced, although, according to Kamlarz, it could face a $1.6 million budget deficit by 2011. 

The city manager’s report also singled out overspending of about $600,000 in the Fire Department, primarily due to absences in 14 positions that must be covered by overtime work by other firefighters, a function of mandatory staffing ratios. The paid absences are due to workers’ compensation, family medical leave, parental leave, long-term sick leave and military leave. 

“Since a majority of these absences are on paid leave, the cost of backfilling the positions is exacerbated,” the report says. 


Police needs 

The council is considering a number of possible tax measures: police, fire, youth, or a combination thereof; a therapeutic warm pool; sewers and more. 

The city will contract for a taxpayer survey to be taken next month to determine how much and for what taxpayers are willing to spend their money. The scope of the survey has yet to be determined; the contract has not been let.  

Police Chief Doug Hambleton has a $5 million wish list, but has said he knows citizens may want to fund just part of it. 

At a Feb. 26 council workshop, the chief set the stage for the question of new funding with a theoretical overview of policing as some say it should be, with Sampson, the consultant, introducing the concept of Problem-Oriented Policing. 

POP is similar to what is known as community-involved policing, with “the community engaging with officers and officers engaging with the community around crime problems and looking at the community as partners,” Sampson said. 

A key element of POP is crime analysis, she said. Police need to thoroughly interview victims and perpetrators of crimes, study the location of crimes, talk to various segments of the community and look at crises to effectively reduce crime.  

One should not rely on putting people in jail, she told the council. “The criminal justice system only has a certain amount of capacity and does not turn around all crime problems,” she said. “Prevention is worth its weight in gold.” 

Calling policing “an art and not a science,” Sampson said among the most important elements to analyze is how an officer’s time is divided. Generally one-third of the time should be spent on calls for service, one-third for administration and, most important, one-third should be kept free for community work, which could include, for example, adopting a problem motel, problem bar, or a family that has long-term problems.  

That free time is lacking in Berkeley, Hambleton told the council. A remedy would be to hire non-sworn officers to do some of the paper work, which would free up the sworn officers. This is among the elements he has suggested the citizens could fund by raising taxes.  

While many merchants and councilmembers have called for increased police visibility, Sampson said visibility does not prevent crime. “Walking and talking is not sufficient,” she said. “Police visibility is not a panacea. What police do in conjunction with others is how to reduce crime.” 

That includes teaching merchants how to set up their stores or how to design public space, she said. 

When the council joined the discussion, Counilmember Kriss Worthington, who has long asked for community police to walk Telegraph Avenue, responded that he wanted to make it clear that he did not believe police officers should be walking their beats all day every day. 

“It has to do with relationship building, community building,” he said. “If you’ve created a relationship, you do not need to walk every day—you need to be acquainted with the situation.” 

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak had a different take on ideal policing. “I hope we have a goal of catching everyone who does a violent crime in Berkeley so that Berkeley gets known as a place where, if you do a violent crime, you’re going to get caught.” 

Sampson disagreed: “There aren’t nearly enough police to do this,” she said, noting, however, that Berkeley’s rate of solving crimes is good compared to neighboring cities. 

Councilmember Max Anderson concurred with the notion that crime reduction needs to go beyond solving individual crimes.  

“Circumstances and conditions that breed crime don’t get much attention in the community,” he said. “If we don’t deal with what’s driving this crisis—even though we know that 50 percent of the crimes that are done in the city are done by people from outside the city—we still have conditions in the city that need addressing and need to be part of a strategy for crime prevention.” 

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli said the job of police officer as described by Sampson “is almost like a social worker.” He asked whether Berkeley officers have training at the police academy in responding to domestic violence. (The Berkeley police officer who shot and killed a women Feb. 16 in South Berkeley was responding to a domestic violence call.) 

“Councilmember,” Sampson replied. “I’d like to promote you and put you on the Police Officers Standards and Training Commission. I was on that for a couple of years and tried to persuade other members of the commission that that’s one of the things we need to do.”  

Earlier, during the public speaking portion of the meeting, Michael Diehl, vice chair of the Mental Health Commission, asked for police to get crisis intervention training to work better with people experiencing mental health episodes. (Neither this nor other training appears on the chief’s list of elements proposed for a new police tax.) 

The chief told the council that Berkeley officers go through the city of Sacramento police academy, which stresses a POP approach; moreover, Berkeley generally hires officers with four-year degrees, he said. 

In-service training, however, is prohibitively expensive, as officers are paid overtime to work while others get training, the chief noted.  


Taxes for police services 

Hambleton’s wish list of new police services—costing $3.5-$5 million—would cost the average homeowner $90 to $125 per year. Services could include: 

• Three additional bicycle patrol officers for business districts. 

• Four additional evening and night bicycle patrol officers, two for the Telegraph area and two for downtown. 

• Three additional officers for the traffic/motorcycle unit to enforce laws relative to vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian safety. 

• Nine new non-sworn community service officers to handle non-hazardous calls such as collision reports and minor crimes, freeing up officer time for proactive enforcement and problem-solving activities. 

• Radio interoperability so that Berkeley can communicate with outside public safety agencies. (It remains a question whether the services purchased would add full operability with Oakland, which has a unique radio system.) 

• Seven additional police officers, one added to each of the seven beats to allow more time for problem-solving activities.