Oakland city leaders should be doing more to hire enough police officers to keep their city safe, the Alameda County civil grand jury found in a report issued this week. The report, released Wednesday, states that the civil grand jury recommended two years ago that the Police Department increase its staffing to about 1,200 officers in order to meet minimum modern standards for police staffing. However, the department, which has an authorized strength of 803 officers, now has only 776 officers and is slated to lay off 80 officers next week unless the police union agrees to last-minute concessions in return for saving jobs. The union has been in negotiations with the city about contributing 9 percent of the cost of police officers’ retirement plans, which is the same percentage that other employees pay. The union wants the city to promise not to lay off officers for two years if it agrees. The grand jury said that while it understands that Oakland is experiencing a serious financial crisis, “We remain concerned that Oakland officials do not place a high enough priority on public safety.” “Government’s first priority should be providing basic levels of safety for its citizens,” the report stated. “In the matter of public safety, the grand jury believes that public officials have a duty to speak with one voice. Here, Oakland fails dramatically.” Senior Deputy District Attorney Jeff Stark, who is the grand jury’s legal adviser, said, “The grand jury isn’t pointing fingers at the City Council or the mayor, but it appears that the entire leadership is not united in its commitment to increasing public safety.” Commenting on the possibility that officers might be laid off, Stark said, “An already horrible situation is only getting worse.” The grand jury report states that because there is an insufficient number of officers to patrol Oakland, essential duties like walking streets, meeting with neighborhood groups and contacting parolees and probationers,
can’t be adequately performed. “Officers are only able to spend their shifts answering 911 calls for assistance and taking reports of crimes that have already taken place, being reactive rather than proactive,” the report states. The panel said it has heard “disturbing anecdotes” such as that of a citizen who called police to report that his home had been burglarized only
to call back 15 hours later to cancel the call because no officer had arrived to take the report. The grand jury said the shortage of officers negatively impacts the Police Department’s ability to respond to serious emergencies. It said the city’s current average response time to 911 calls is 15 minutes, which is nearly four times higher than the four-minute response time called for by national standards.
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