Oakland Cutting Cops to Balance Budget

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 27: Police officers wait to enter the Oracle Arena for funeral services for four killed Oakland police officers March 27, 2009 in Oakland, California. Thousands of police officers from across the country along with members of the public came out to pay their respects to four Oakland police officers the were killed in the line of duty last Saturday following a traffic stop of a fugitive parolee. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

    The Oakland City Council voted 5-3 at a lengthy and boisterous meeting Thursday night to approve a $400 million general fund budget for  fiscal year 2011 that calls for eliminating 80 police officer positions.

    However, several council members said after the meeting that they think police layoffs can still be avoided before the new fiscal year starts on July 1.

    The Oakland Police Officers' Association, the union that represents officers, is scheduled to meet with city leaders on Saturday and  Sunday to consider concessions.

    Vice Mayor Jean Quan, who is running for mayor in the November election, expressed optimism that an agreement can still be reached with the police union that would avoid layoffs by having officers contribute 9 percent of the cost of their retirement benefits.

    City Council President Jane Brunner said it's hard to predict what will happen in the talks, but she said it was a good sign the negotiations were being planned for both days this weekend.

    "It shows that they are serious" about trying to reach an agreement, she said.

    Police Chief Anthony Batts said if the 80 positions are cut, "My role will be to re-engineer our organization so that we focus on our core functions, such as responding to 911 calls."

    Batts said special units would be downsized and some walking and bike patrol beats could be eliminated.

    The council's vote came after a three-hour public hearing at which  some community members warned that laying off police officers could lead to  an increase in Oakland's already high crime rate. But others said every other department in the city has had to have its budget cut and the Police Department must also have its budget trimmed. They said the money saved by laying off police officers will help preserve other important city services, such as libraries, senior centers and  recreation centers.

    The council's budget makes cuts to other city agencies besides the Police Department and closes a $32.5 million funding gap. Brunner, Quan, Ignacio De La Fuente, Nancy Nadel and Patricia Kernighan voted for the budget that was adopted.The dissenting votes were cast by Desley Brooks, Larry Reid and  Rebecca Kaplan.

    The Oakland Police Department is authorized to have 803 officers and currently has 776 officers on its force. Because 27 of the 80 positions slated to be cut are vacant already, the council's action calls for 53 current officers to be laid off in early July.

    "The battle is not over," police union president Dom Arotzarena said, but he said he fears the layoffs are imminent as formal layoff notices will be sent out on today.

    "We're still willing to negotiate with the city and be part of the solution and not part of the problem," police union vice president Barry  Donelan said.

    As part of a public relations campaign against the layoffs, the police union did robocalls to Oakland residents to warn them that layoffs could cause the city's crime rate to soar, but several speakers said the automated calls made them angry toward the union, not sympathetic.

    Quan, who was mentioned in the calls, said the union "tried to beat us up" and pressure the City Council to avoid layoffs but wasn't successful.

    She said police officers must contribute some of the cost of their pension benefits because all other city employees pay part of that cost.

    "Having employees who can retire with $100,000 a year at age 50 without contributing to their retirement benefits is unsustainable," Quan said.

    She said that if the police union makes concessions over the weekend, the city and the union could have a united front to support tax measures on the November ballot that would raise enough money to avoid future layoffs.