(Editor’s note: When Chief Anthony Batts was named as Oakland’s new police chief in August 2009, there were high hopes by many for what he would bring to the city. The former Long Beach police chief also had big plans for a community that was struggling for a more positive relationship between
police and residents, lower crime rates and respect. The following is the fourth in a five-part series that looks at Batts’ first year on the job and what the future holds for his tenure as chief of police.)


When Anthony Batts became the new police chief of Oakland, there was little indication he knew how deep the financial problems were. But these days, it is all too clear that Oakland’s budget issues have a direct effect on the police department.

Money woes will weigh heavily on Oakland voters this November election. That’s because Oakland is struggling with a$30.5 million budget deficitfor this year, and next year’s budget gap is projected to reach $50 million.

Some put the city’s structural deficit for the next four years at$400 million. And City Hall’s ownrecent projection shows a structural deficit of $589 million over five years.

City officials claim that they’ve had the rug pulled from under them by the Great Recession. But that’s only part of the story.

Not only has Oakland not saved money for a rainy day, it has dug a major financial debt that is turning into a black hole. To make matters worse, the public safety portion of the city’s general fund budget is greatly unbalanced and accounts for 75 percent of the budget.

“In the last three years the city’s general fund has went from $480 million to about $400 million,” said City Councilwoman Pat Kernighan. “That’s a huge drop.”

The city has put togethera number of options to begin dealing with the immediate budget problems.

First,City Council put a four-year, $360-per-parceltax on the November ballot to fund police and fire services.

If this measure passes,an agreement with Oakland police will kick in where police officers will begin contributing to their pension plan, a contentious issue that has dragged through the summer.

Next, voters will consider a measure that would tax cannabis dispensaries, production and cultivation by 5 percent and recreational use by 10 percent if cannabis is legalized at the state level.

Voters also will consider a phone tax that would impose a $1.99 fee annually if passed.

The current tax proposals on the ballot this fall would place a sudden, heavy tax, primarily on property owners.

City voters also will be asked to overhaul Measure Y to suspend the minimum staffing levels required to collect the tax. About $6 million was used to help pay for 63 problem solving officers that have now been reassigned to street patrol.

According topublished reports, if voters approve every tax measure sought by the city and the Oakland Unified School District this November, the average Oakland resident would have to pay an extra $627 a year.

Even without the recession, the city was likely to facedeep pain anyway. As a result of heavy reliance on real estate transfer tax during the housing boom in 2001 and 2002, the city awarded generous contracts to its public employees, namely police and fire. Over time, those awards took a heavy toll on the city’s general funds. But, while times were financially good, few in city government were warning of a likely disaster, which would mean the layoff of scores of city workers in 2010.

“We were getting a massive amount of income, about $75 million a year from the real estate transfer tax,” Kernighan said. “The city back then should of been more conservative with their fiscal management and they should of said, ‘You know this is probably not going to go on forever, we shouldn’t let our basic expenses grow. We should put some of that money in reserve for a rainy day.’ And they didn’t. It was like, ‘Oh great the money is there we can have more social programs, we can have more this.’”

It was during this boom time that generous raises and benefits were negotiated with many city unions, including police and fire, Kernighan said. Under the pension system plan the city negotiated, many retired fire and city officers were able to retire at 50 and make close their original salaries, in some cases $100,000.

“What’s really needed is a long term, sustainable public safety measure,” said Bruce Nye of Make Oakland Better Now! “The leadership in Oakland has to have a laser-like focus on cost effective public safety solutions for the city.”

Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said the most immediate strategy for the Council is to work with the Oakland Police Department in redeploying police officers in the most strategic way possible.

“I also feel that we need to work on the long-term financial situation,” Kaplan said. “The ideal solution would be to deal with the police pension cost. Most cities no longer do what we do.”

Lowering police pension costs would allow the city to have more funds to hire more officers, she said.

So far, almost all solutions offered fall short.

“Sworn police and firefighters in the Bay Area, and also many other public employees, were treated very well when things were going well economically,” Nye said. “But, it’s also a two-way street and something has to give. One way or another, it has to be less expensive benefits.”

Nye said dollars don’t always equal a feeling of safety.

“One of the first things Batts said was that Oakland has one of the most expensive police departments  and yet not everyone feels safe,”

“I don’t think we’ll get out of this for a while,” Nye said. “I think we have a bigger problem than the loss  of 80 officers or 200 officers.”

This fall, we have a citywide election that has a handful ofrevenue measures, designed to save the police, shore up city services and overhaul Measure Y.

For many Oaklanders, it’s important that the city begin working on some of its root economic problems.

“We’re going to need economic development,” said Jakada Imani, executive director of the Ella Baker Center. “We’re going to need jobs. We’re going to need educational opportunities. We’re going to need recreational development for young people. We’re going to need the parks to be open and open later during the summer. We’re going to need these things in order to have a safe and thriving and inclusive community.”

Nye said smaller resources is now an everyday reality for the Oakland police.

“Trying to do more with less,” he said. “That’s going to continue to be the challenge.”

Kernighan said residents need to get used to dealing with city budget issues.

“This is a pretty permanent situation for the foreseeable future,” she said. “Nobody expects the economy to revive in a big way in the next five years where our revenue stays pretty flat, which is way too low and yet the cost of providing the same services is the same.”

Tomorrow: OPD Chief reflects on past, future

Read Part 1: New OPD chief tries to fight Oakland’s downward spiral  & Part 2: One Year Later: Oakland Chief Batts prepares game plan for department, city;  &  Part 3: Oakland Residents Remain Positive Despite Reduced Police Force, continued Tenson

Acknowledgements: Oakland Local thanks Spot.us, which helped us raise the money to fund this series, Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig for editing these pieces, and Jennifer Inez Ward for all her research and writing.

Read more coverage of the Oakland PD here. http://oaklandlocal.com/tags/OPD