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Pay raises for Oakland police draw pushback from some residents

Oakland police, under federal oversight for two decades, see a budget hike and salary increases despite pushback from activists.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – Oakland city officials joined San Francisco in approving a budget increase for the city police department, and three years of salary raises, signaling a focus on staffing amid calls for increased transparency and reform. 

Oakland City Council signed the changes into law Tuesday night, with salary raises part of an extended contract with the Oakland Police Officers Association. The decision comes along with finalizing approval of the mid-cycle adjusted budget – containing an $11 million or 3.4% increase for the Oakland Police Department, bringing the budget total to about $353 million. 

Starting in July next year, employees in the POA and Oakland Police Management Association – along with staffers in the International Association Of Firefighters, Local 55 – will see 3.5% raises, with a 3% raise each year in 2024 and 2025. This extended contract with the union was preliminarily approved in a special meeting last week – with the adjusted police budget given preliminary approval June 30 despite months of public pressure to not increase OPD's budget.

The vote this week signed the union’s extended contract into law. 

A pie chart shows how Oakland Police Department allocated its budget approved through 2023, presented to city leaders May 2022. (City of Oakland via Courthouse News)

Oakland officials’ decision is similar to the city across the Bay. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors also approved a large budget increase for San Francisco’s Police Department this month. The deal negotiated with the police union adjusts Mayor London Breed’s push to use about $14 billion for each of the next two fiscal years – including hiring 220 police officers and growing the police department budget by more than $50 million to about $714 million in 2023, according to the mayor’s office.

Oakland’s Mayor Libby Schaaf pushed for increasing funds for the police department both this year and last year. The five-year contract with the police union was set to expire in June 2024, but after closed negotiations this summer, was extended to June 2026. That extension was signed alongside other renewals for city staff bargaining units, after months of battles with the unions and ongoing citywide staffing vacancies.

City Administrator Ed Reiskin said via email that his office negotiated with the police union to find ways to increase sworn OPD staff retention rates. He said yearly salary increases intended as incentives for sworn staff will not require changing the OPD budget, and will be covered by salary savings due to the large number of vacant positions.

But in the meeting Tuesday, Councilmember Carroll Fife – who was not present last week for the preliminary approval of the extended contract – said city records of exit interviews with officers who quit the department did not indicate a desire for higher pay.

"To me it’s not logical, and it is fiscally irresponsible to open up an MOU outside of the course of the contract with our police officers, to offer something they weren’t asking for,” Fife said.

Although Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas voted to approve the new agreement, last week she called the negotiation the second in a series of “backroom deals” between the OPOA and the Schaaf administration, according to Oakland reporter Jaime Omar Yassin. She said she had wanted time to review the agreement’s fiscal impact and long-term pension obligations, saying the deal ties the future City Council and mayor’s hands in the process of negotiating an open contract.

The police union did not respond to a request for comment before press time. 

Oakland activists say they are unhappy with this decision, after the city saw major demonstrations during the 2020 nationwide protests of George Floyd's killing. OPD has been under federal oversight for bad conduct for two decades, and just last month entered a one-year trial period in which a federal judge will decide whether to remove the oversight permanently. Local advocates and criminal justice researchers said they think the department and city have a lot to prove about having made significant changes to end patterns of police brutality.

Police officers wearing riot gear formed a line to block protesters from walking on a highway overpass in Oakland on June 4, 2020. (Courthouse News photo/Nicholas Iovino)

For months, people also called in to city council meetings to voice disapproval of police being given a budget increase, without a public audit of how officers prioritize public safety calls and record overtime. Some called in Tuesday to ask what has changed to make the union contract open for reexamination before the due date for renegotiation. They reminded the council that the Reimagining Public Safety task force – led by Bas and Councilmember Loren Taylor – was supposed to find ways to redirect some OPD funds to other services, such as housing. 

The Anti Police-Terror Project said in a statement last week that OPD’s budget has increased every year during the Schaaf administration, from $200 million to more than $350 million, or a 75% increase.

“OPD’s current Memorandum of Understanding is not up for renegotiation, so this compensation increase is highly irregular,” the organization said.

James Burch, policy director with Anti Police-Terror Project, said he is concerned this agreement took place after the city auditor twice called for changes in the MOU with the union. He said the MOU’s overtime clauses mean the city is often paying out millions in overtime costs to officers every year. While overtime hours were reduced according to a 2019 audit, overtime costs have increased thanks to annual salary raises.

“They (overtime clauses) are devastating to our city's finances, if not completely fatal,” he said. “Yet behind closed doors, they negotiated for no reason a two year extension to the police MOU, with a 3% raise each year.”

He said a city report with the Inspector General on how the police department uses their overtime hours is not yet public. Meanwhile, city records show that recruitment efforts are not working and police academies are not performing well. 

“It’s put the city in even more dire financial jeopardy,” Burch said. “The decision is just to throw more money at the problem.”

The City Council approved millions Tuesday for housing projects, including funding to help transition homeless people into housing. But Burch said the deal with the police union indicates “unwillingness” to consider how money for salary increases could go to other solutions for public safety, such as protecting people living homeless on the streets.

“The city budget isn't enough to fix all the problems our city has,” he said. “But we need immediate resources to be spent for those who are most vulnerable.”

Oakland’s city auditor was not available to comment before press time. Reiskin, the city administrator, said via email: “The administration continues to make administrative improvements to address issues raised in past audits.” 

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