Try to think of the one government department that you wouldn’t want to have to make cutbacks on…
This month, Oakland laid off 80 police officers, just over 10 percent of its total force, in order to balance the city’s budget. As a result, the city’s police chief says cops will no longer respond to 44 categories of crimes, including grand theft. The city’s elected officials regret the change but say they simply cannot afford to maintain current staffing levels. Whether that’s true depends upon your definition of “afford.”
At current levels of compensation, yes, Oakland cannot afford to maintain a police department with 776 employees. That’s because total compensation for an OPD employee averages an astounding $162,000 per year. But at a more reasonable level of pay and benefits, Oakland could afford to maintain its force, or even grow it.
Oakland police officers’ compensation is generous along every dimension. As touted on the department’s own recruiting website, cadets start out at a salary of $64,656 plus benefits. (For comparison, the NYPD pays police academy attendees a starting salary of $44,744). Once an OPD officer finishes training, he or she is entitled to a starting base salary, before overtime and benefits, ranging from $71,841 to $90,459. And the payscale continues upward from there.
Oakland police receive a generous health plan with the premium paid entirely by the city, for single or family coverage. For family coverage, this benefit was worth $15,859 as of 2009, compared to a California private sector mean of $9,159. The city also makes the entire pension contribution on behalf of police officers — 9% of their salary and overtime pay.
Jeebus Christ! A $60 grand starting salary is more than many experienced civil engineers make. I realize the police are an important part of living in a free and safe society, but how do you expect to be able to maintain a police force of reasonable size without allowing simple supply-and-demand determine salaries instead of unions.
And let’s not forget this is Oakland we’re talking about. Last I checked, they haven’t exactly taken care of their crime problem. And now the city faces becoming less safe, just because the cops’ union won’t agree to a pay cut?
Oakland has fallen into the same trap that’s ensnared many big cities across the country, wherein the city is forced to choose between providing quality services to the public or providing more-than-ample compensation for public employees. Rarely are both possible.
Perhaps if law enforcement officials weren’t wasting their time prosecuting non-violent criminals for drug or prostitution charges, it could be better focused on catching murderers and rapists. If not, then the only way to ensure a reasonably-sized police force is to end this ridiculous union-approved payscale, allowing the city to pay cops whatever they are willing to accept for their services.