More than 14 Oakland police officers have voluntarily quit or retired since July, including two who received the Medal of Valor while wearing Hayward police uniforms, leaving the force with 682 officers, the fewest since 1994.
Now the Oakland police union is going public with its fight to replace those positions by recalling some of the 80 officers who were laid off July 13 to close the city's budget shortfall.
The city has money in the budget for 696 officers. But City Administrator Dan Lindheim has refused to let the department hire anybody, said Barry Donelan, vice president of the Oakland Police Officers Association.
"We've lobbied hard for the city to bring the numbers up to the very bare minimum of 696 (officers), and so far they haven't," he said. "We have officers ready to be reinstated and start work tomorrow. I don't understand when you reduce us to 696, why we don't have 696 officers."
But Lindheim said it makes no sense to bring back a few officers for a month or two when it's likely they'll soon be laid off again.
The department will lose another 122 positions if voters on Nov. 2 do not approve Measure X, a new $360 parcel tax, and Measure BB, a revision of the Measure Y tax that pays for 63 community police officers, fire stations and violence prevention programs.
If voters deny the new parcel tax but approve Measure BB, 27 positions -- filled or not -- will be cut by Jan. 1, 2011.
"If we have a presumption that we will be laying off a large number of officers because of widespread opposition to a new parcel tax by our mayoral candidates, according to our budget proposition passed in June, we will have to lay off officers," Lindheim said. "It doesn't make sense to bring back a small number of officers when we know in the next month we will have to lay off a much larger number of officers."
Carl Chan serves on the Asian Advisory Committee on Crime and is chairman of the Chinatown Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council. He said people feel unsafe.
"If these 15 police officers can be replaced by police officers who have been laid off, that will help us bring back the confidence of the people, and that will help business to bring in additional revenue with business and sales tax," Chan said. "If the budget would allow it, we should have those officers to serve us."
Rick Malaspina, a retired public relations expert who lives in the Oakmore neighborhood, said he doesn't know whether the city should be rehiring officers right now, but he does know that people are worried about crime and that city leaders need to address the issue.
"I think we need more policemen," he said. "Whatever it takes, I think there should be more police visibility, or the council should get together and declare a war on crime in Oakland."
Lindheim said the city just doesn't have the money.
"I would tell (residents who are worried) that's why the City Council put the parcel tax on the ballot, because the city understands the parcel tax is absolutely necessary to fund the level of officers that are (needed) to adequately (protect the city), and that the city doesn't have the resources to pay for those officers," he said.
Contact Cecily Burt at 510-208-6441. Check out her blog at www.ibabuzz.com/westside.