Oakland police and Oakland city officials failed to reach a deal and 80 police officers have been laid off, effective Tuesday.
The two sides could not come to terms on the portion of salary that officers would contribute towards their pensions.
The final offer from the city was that officers pay 4% of their pension this fiscal year and an additional 3% next year. Officers had previously agreed to pay 2% of their pension this year and an additional 3% next year.
In addition, the police union was seeking a three-year guarantee of no layoffs but the city only offered one year.
“Given the City’s financial situation it would have been financially irresponsible for the City to consider any ‘no layoff’ guarantee in excess of one year,” said Oakland City Council President Jane Brunner in a statement.
Officials have made a tremendous mistake by not reaching an agreement. I am not making the argument that police officers deserve a high salary or pension. What I will argue though is that the city needed to figure out a way to maintain public safety.
There are two sides of the issues.
After writing last week about the insanity of laying off police officers in one of the worst crime cities, especially after the recent riots, I received a number of e-mails defending city officials.
The overall theme is the long-term health of both public safety and the entire city.
As one California elected official put it: “If the police union won’t compromise and reduce their costs, not only will parks, libraries, and public works maintenance projects be non-existent in the future, but after they’ve cut all that they will still have to come back and cut police. “Who wants to live in a ‘safe’ city that has a poor quality of life? And if they lose their wealthier citizens and retail businesses, then their economic outlook will be bleaker than ever.”
I agree with that take. Pension costs simply can’t continue as they are structured. Yet, it’s no excuse for not finding a way to make it work with those in public safety.Then there were less sound arguments – one e-mailer who even wrote that police work wasn’t that dangerous. (Uh, excuse me? I don’t care what stats say about construction injuries versus police injuries – any public safety job is extremely dangerous in my book, especially when you consider working in the dangers of Oakland.)
Despite the defense of city officials, I’m not convinced.
Don’t balance a checkbook on the back of public safety.
Admittedly, my opinion is built on emotion – but it’s also built on common sense.
I simply don’t see how a city cannot reach an agreement to at least maintain what they have fighting for public safety.An Alameda County Grand Jury stated that Oakland needed 400 more cops to meet minimum standards (pg. 62-63).
Years of out-of-control spending for many cities have led to this predicament. But again, public safety simply can’t be forfeited.
Both sides need to get back to work and figure out an agreement. Oakland simply cannot afford to lose officers. By not reaching a deal, the city has handcuffed its ability to keep itself safe.
When residents can’t feel safe, what’s the point? The economy suffers; the quality of life suffers.
The results will be devastating for the city of Oakland.
James Spencer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org