OAKLAND — For the first time since 2008, the city is taking steps to beef up the ranks of the Police Department. But even these efforts likely won't leave the department near its authorized strength of 803 police officers.
The department is bringing on board six "lateral" officers from other policing agencies effective April 5, Assistant Chief Howard Jordan said Thursday at a media briefing. Beginning April 19, 26 Oakland police recruits will go through a basic training academy run by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office.
On top of that, police Chief Anthony Batts said he hopes he can run another training academy in January.
Oakland faces a budget deficit of more than $30 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1, making it hard to predict what might happen to the Police Department's staffing level. Batts said he would like to begin an academy in January so graduating officers would hit the streets in early summer when crime tends to rise.
"What I think I'm going to do is to try to do a January class," he said. "This hasn't been confirmed or approved by my chain of command."
The City Council is responsible for city spending decisions. Its public safety committee this week received a report on options for running academies next year and decided it would be best to weigh the possibilities along with other budget priorities. The council will meet Thursday to work on balancing its budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year.
The Police Department has 777 sworn officers, which includes two park rangers recently absorbed into the department. Jordan said that even with the boost from the April academy, the department is projecting a staffing level of about 755 at the end of 2010. The number reflects the typical loss of four to five officers per month to retirement or other departures.
The department hired 11 new civilian dispatchers, which Jordan said should help the force respond more quickly to crimes in progress once the dispatchers complete training. Faced with limited sworn staffing, Batts placed 30 additional officers in the patrol division, taking them away from investigative units that were already thinly staffed.
"When your house is getting broken into at 3 a.m., and you're home by yourself and you call for the police, we need to get there," he said. "That has to become our priority."
Police staffing is not just a public safety issue for the city but also a potential legal issue. Oakland resident Marleen Sacks last week filed her second lawsuit concerning the implementation of the city's 2004 public safety ballot measure, Measure Y, claiming the city since 2008 had violated it by not budgeting the academies necessary to keep the Police Department properly staffed.
Sacks said that even with the proposed January academy, the city's plans are "completely unacceptable." The city collects roughly $20 million a year from the taxes imposed by Measure Y to pay for police officers and other public safety programs.
"Here we are paying all these taxes for an expanded police force, and we're not getting it," Sacks said. "This is a fraud. This is totally unacceptable."
The good news from the Police Department on Thursday was that reports of serious crime are down 34 percent compared with this point last year.
"That is pretty significant for this organization or any organization," Batts said.
Police data through Monday showed reports of aggravated assault down 31 percent, rape down 45 percent, robbery down 27 percent, car theft down 38 percent and homicide down 26 percent.
There have been 17 homicides so far this year compared with 22 at this point last year. In each tally, one homicide was considered justifiable. "Although 16 is way too many, we're going in the right direction," Batts said. "We're making progress, and we're making the city safer."
City Councilmember Jean Quan (Montclair-Laurel), who announced in September her intentions to run for mayor, is officially kicking off her campaign at noon Saturday at The Humanist Hall, 390 27th St.
Speakers will include state Assembly members Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley, and Sandré Swanson, D-Alameda. Swanson, who is serving as co-chairman for the Quan campaign, said in a statement the council member would "bring great personal integrity, a passion for public service and a proven record of effective local leadership to Oakland."
Quan is up against stiff competition by former state Sen. Don Perata. At-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan is also considering a run, and Mayor Ron Dellums has not said whether he will seek re-election.
Other candidates include Don Macleay, a Green Party activist and businessman, and Terence Candell, director of Candell's College Preparatory Academy.