Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Oh How I Love Seeing Measure Y 'Raided'

In case you hadn't heard, Oakland's City Council voted to spend $7.7M of Measure Y funds for recruiting and training as many as 75 new police officers this year.

There's a lot of hullabaloo out there about how this is a violation of the public trust because Measure Y funds were supposed to pay for "problem solving officers," not training new officers. Frankly, I have trouble understanding these complaints, and I find them a bit hypocritical.

Now, I'm the last one to say that I expect the City of Oakland to spend its money wisely. I view my $88 annual "violence prevention tax" the same way I view the $80 tax for the world's crummiest library system and the $197 I pay for the world's worst school system. On a bad day, I view these as straight extortion. On a good day, it's the admission fee for watching an entertaining albeit horribly self destructive spectacle.

When Measure Y passed, I expected them to figure out some way to divert 100% of the money to "administrative costs" and social programs. There's a pretty standard way the city does this, and others have reported extensively about these practices.

I don't live in the "kill zone" of Oakland, as one friend calls it. So in some respects, I don't really care whether Measure Y sends money to police officers or to social programs. But I feel pretty certain that the silent majority of non-criminals/non-activists/non-lawyers who do live in the "zone" care very deeply. They want more police.

Larry Reid says he doubts 803 officers is achievable in 2008. Maya Dillard Smith worries that Measure Y money may supplant the general police budget. V Smoothe wants to make sure Measure Y money is repaid if a recruited officer doesn't join the force.

What's with all the complaining? Is adding 30 or 50 officers such a disaster, if we don't reach the magic 803 number this year? And, while I share the concern about government fiscal responsibility, do we really have any illusions that Oakland will somehow not spend every penny it takes in one year?

Personally, the only reason I thought Measure Y wasn't a total disaster was the thought that maybe some of the money might incrementally raise the city's police budget. I know the city is corrupt; I know the police union is corrupt; I know everyone's on the take. But in a city where pretty much any measure (except the one for a new central library--we don't like books apparently) passes with 75% of the vote, you take what you can get. I assume measures will pass. I assume my taxes will always rise. I look for the bright spots where I can find them.

So I say good for you Ron Dellums. Good for you for taking a more conservative position and pushing for more police. And good for you for trying to find the cash to make it happen. I hope this works out, and I hope we get more cops.

And to those who oppose this move, I ask you what you think the money should be spent on instead? Because the choice is not between spending it on this or issuing refunds. I'm not sitting by my mailbox waiting for that $88 to show up. I know better. I'd rather spend the money to maybe get a few cops, however poor the process, than on Nancy Nadel's next wacky "violence prevention" scheme.

Enough of those. Let's get some more cops and bust some heads.


  1. I'm not necessarily disagreeing with your points.

    But I do disagree with your uncited assertions.

    You cite two "world's worst"'s, but I've just been traveling, and these are not the world's worst libraries, or school systems. When you're trying to rebut folks that have done homework, hyperbole doesn't work as well

    Similar with your assertion of corruption and folks on the take. I don't necessarily disagree (I have no facts) but if you have facts, please do lay them out, with as much backing as possible. *that*'s insightful, not just hyperbolic.

    Most of the opposition seems to be centered around the details on this, which make it appear that we'll have no more police than we had before, but they'll have temporarily moved off the general fund ledger. If that pans out, it's lamer than the parcel tax was in the first place.

    I'm 100% with you on getting more cops though (although they should refrain from busting heads if you don't want your taxes paying for lawyers, really...)

  2. I believe OUSD is tied for worst, in the sense that it totally fails. As for the libraries, I suppose it would technically be worse if we had no libraries at all, so I'll concede the point there. It would be nice if we had just one library with wifi and some big tables for adults to do work. Even Berkeley's library lacks such amenities. I suppose also that a library without any actual books in it would be worse. Other than that, I'm not sure how our libraries could get worse.

    As for "folks on the take," take a look at the benefits packages given to police and fire. Here you have essentially uneducated people receiving total compensation in the range of $120k a year and up. The police chief's own numbers indicate an all-in cost of $200k per new officer.

    Corrupt? Just take a look at the turnout at the testing session for new fire recruits late last year. Way too many people showed up, and then instead of first-come-first-served as promised, the people administering it walked around looking for their buddies to let inside.

    How are they on the take? Because they spend their time lobbying government to raise their own salaries, often resorting to tricking citizens with deceptive ads.

    And why do firemen have so many excess signups for what should be such a risky job? Maybe it's because it's statistically not risky, dramatically overpaid, and subject to insane disability rules that guarantee 100% salary for life after 20-25 years of service.

    Now, to your parcel tax point, nothing is worse than paying a parcel tax and getting Nadelonomics out of it. Even one more cop for our collective $88 is better. And frankly, I'm even in favor of this recruitment drive if all it does is publicize the problems in Oakland. Maybe that will shame our leaders.

  3. Boss -

    My problem with the expenditure is hardly an abstract complaint about problem solving officers versus other police officers.

    The Council, in approving the request, has ignored their duty to consider Oakland's long-term fiscal responsibility in favor of headlines today. Measure Y does not collect enough revenue to pay for the officers it promised to hire, and is projected to start running a deficit beginning this fiscal year. The now-spent reserves were expected to cover that deficit. Now, we've spent it, and, in the rush to redefine all new officers as Measure Y officers, ensured that the deficit will grow even deeper. Where is Oakland going to find the money to cover it? The General Fund is already facing its own multi-million dollar deficit. I don't want us to end up like Vallejo!

    Now, there is certainly an argument to be made that the current expenditure could be viewed as a buying on weakness type of investment. That is - by hiring the officers we need now, and theoretically making Oakland a safer city, and by extension a more attractive place for private investment, we may be able to attract enough new tax revenues to negate the ensuing deficit in the future.

    That's an argument I'm open to. Unfortunately, nobody on the Council was making it, and its validity is predicated on the assumption that the recruitment plan will yield a significant number of new officers. I don't think it will. If that was the bet the Council wanted to make, the rational decision would be to reject the request at this time, and tell the police department to come back with a better proposal. After all, this is a one shot thing. Once we spend this money, it's gone. We don't have any more reserves lying around to try again if it doesn't work.

    The recruitment plan proposed by the police department and Dellums is based on throwing more money into efforts that don't work. The rational thing to do here would be to seriously assess what we're getting in return for our current recruitment efforts, and look to departments who have been successful at adding officers to their force in recent years to see how we can model our programs after their recruitment tactics. Instead, we're pouring another million dollars into low-yield media saturation, and have just committed to spending almost half a million dollars on a 50-person Academy at ASCO in May that we are unlikely to be able to fill.

  4. I agree with you, I am for anything that gets me more cops. I have had the Oaktown Crips living behind me for over a year now and when the bullets fly, my once quiet neighborhood becomes a war zone. I can assure you as one of the "zone" residents we definitely want more police, as soon as possible please.

    Actually, I find myself obsessed with law and order. I have dreams of Rudy Guiliani coming to take over Oakland. He cleaned up NYC, maybe he could help us. I'm ready to try just about anything that makes sense and I have a sense of urgency, somthing lacking in most City Council members.

    For so long Oakland has been the town with the most potential. I wonder if it will ever be realized.