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Maneuvering Over Dellums’ Police Plan Continues

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday March 04, 2008

With the full Oakland City Council scheduled to vote on Mayor Ron Dellums’ police recruitment augmentation plan at its regular 7 p.m. meeting today (Tuesday), maneuvering over the final shape of the plan continued through the weekend. 

Measure Y Oversight Committee Chair Maya Dillard Smith called off an attempt to hold a Saturday morning summit conference of city officials to find what she called “common ground” in the discussions over the plan. A Measure Y committee member criticized Smith for not accurately presenting the view of the committee, and Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente suggested that some of the augmentation plan’s resources might be better spent on recruiting from other police agencies than on advertising for new recruits. 

In order to meet the mayor’s promise of fully staffing the Oakland Police Department by the end of the year to its authorized 803 officer strength, Dellums and Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker originally proposed using $7.7 million in Measure Y violence prevention bond money to run simultaneous police training academies, fund an ambitious recruitment advertising blitz, and cut red tape in the hiring approval process. 

With crime and violence a top issue in Oakland and five of eight councilmembers up for re-election this June in contested races, the city is under intense pressure to close a 75 officer “blue gap” between the number of police officers authorized in the budget and the number of officers actually hired and working. 

With committee chair Smith sharply questioning police, the mayor’s office, and city administrator staff members over the appropriateness of using Measure Y funds to finance the entire augmentation project, the committee voted 8-1 last Monday to send the proposal back to the mayor’s office to revise how it would pay for the plan. 

But a day later, City Council’s four-member Public Safety Committee voted to send the mayor’s plan on to the full council with their recommendation, suggesting that council figure out a way to balance the funding between Measure Y and the city budget’s general fund. In addition, Public Safety Committee members asked that the plan’s ambitious advertising budget be cut down and some of that money be used for paying bonuses to recruits. 

Late Thursday night, Smith sent out an e-mail to a list of council and city officials attempting to set up a “common ground discussion related to [the mayor’s] police recruitment plan.”  

Among others invited by Smith to a Saturday morning meeting were the mayor, the police chief, City Attorney John Russo, City Auditor Courtney Ruby, four members of the City Council and four members of the Measure Y Oversight Committee. 

In her e-mail, Smith said that the proposed discussion was “intended to seek common ground and commitments to work together to expand the number of police on the streets of Oakland. If the Police Recruitment Plan has any chance at success, it will come as a result of our collaboration on the issue.”  

She added that the meeting was “not geared at circumventing the public process.” 

On Monday, however, a spokesperson for Dellums said that the mayor did not attend the meeting “because of Brown Act and Sunshine Ordinance violations,” the California and Oakland laws aimed at ensuring that policy negotiations take place in the public eye. In a telephone interview, Smith said that the meeting did not take place because of possible Brown Act violations.  

Smith said the proposed meeting was “not an attempt at back-door dealing” but was proposed as a means “to bring together the stakeholders who are involved in creating, approving, and implementing this plan. They have not had a chance to come together and discuss this plan in any meaningful way.” 

In her interview, Smith gave broad guidelines as to what she thought constituted “common ground” surrounding the police recruitment plan for all the stakeholders, saying that the only current pressing matter is adding more police academies. 

“Council should immediately approve [the mayor’s proposal] for concurrent academies,” Smith said. “We could then take four to six weeks to thoroughly come up with a plan to recruit and attract candidates for these academies. That doesn’t have to be done right away.” 

Smith said that she supported the call—made by AC Transit Board member and Council-at-Large candidate Rebecca Kaplan—for an independent audit to determine how much Measure Y money spent on police recruitment eventually goes to Measure Y activities, and to ensure that Measure Y gets reimbursed from the general fund for the remainder.  

Smith said that such an audit should properly go through Oakland’s existing city auditor’s office, rather than spending the money for an outside consultant. 

Meanwhile, Council President Ignacio De La Fuente was sending out an e-mail to Oakland residents late last week indicating his support for the mayor’s proposal, with some modifications. 

“Let me be clear,” De La Fuente said in his e-mail, “I support the Mayor’s proposal for the four academies, two by OPD and two by the Alameda County Sheriffs Office and we are moving that forward as fast as we can. … I agree that we need more officers on our streets and I have always supported additional academies and will move the funding forward for the four academies as fast as possible.” 

But saying that he has “questions about why we need to spend $1.5 million dollars on advertising and marketing while spending only $100,000 to increase the success rate of police officer trainees,” the City Council president said, “We have to work on the retention and graduation of applicants through the application process, and then retention after they are hired. We have to target the two or three areas where we know that recruits are failing.” 

De La Fuente added that “the fastest way to get officers on the street is through lateral transfers. If we are going to spend millions of dollars, instead of the current proposal of $10,200 for the lateral program, why not a larger investment? Instead of spending millions of dollars on marketing, why not offer hiring bonuses of $20,000 or more per person, so we can hire immediately?” 

Also last week, Smith herself was coming under criticism from one of her own Measure Y Committee members. 

In a Friday morning e-mail sent out to oversight committee members, Donald Blevins, chief of the Alameda County Probation Department and a Dellums appointee to the Measure Y Committee, wrote that Dillard Smith was misrepresenting committee actions in her communications concerning the augmentation plan debate. 

“I honestly feel that many of the comments in the attachments [to Smith’s e-mail] are editorial comments and do not accurately reflect the discussion at Monday night’s meeting,” Blevins wrote. “At the very least, I feel that the attachments should have been reviewed by the entire committee before they were forwarded to City Council members and the City Manager. I feel very uncomfortable that my name has been attached to documents that I did not have input on prior to their release and that I do not agree with.”  

Blevins requested that the issue of committee communication be put on the Measure Y Committee agenda for its next meeting. 

One of the documents included with the Dillard Smith e-mail calling for the aborted Saturday meeting, “Measure Y Oversight Committee Action re: Mayor’s Police Recruitment Plan,” notes that “The 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.” 

Reporter’s notes taken at the Measure Y Committee meeting indicate that the actual motion did not mention the term “illegal and fiscally irresponsible,” which Smith herself had used in criticizing the mayor’s plan at the Oakland City Council meeting the week before. Instead, the committee only voted to reject the funding component of the mayor’s proposal, asking that the mayor’s staff throw out all Measure Y money requests that did not belong in the proposal and bring the amended request back to the committee. The committee did not vote on what part of the mayor’s proposal it thought was improper use of Measure Y funds.