OAKLAND -- On the day Oakland's chronically understaffed police force dipped back down to its lowest manpower level in well over a decade, federal officials arrived offering help.
Oakland will receive $4.5 million from the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant program -- the largest grant awarded to any city -- to train and pay for 10 officers over the next three years. Alameda County received nearly $2.3 million that will pay for eight deputies to help patrol sections of Oakland.
"The resources have not been what we wanted, but thanks to the President's initiatives ... we're trying to rebuild our force and to reorganize it so that the entire city can be safe," Mayor Jean Quan said.
During her remarks at a morning news conference attended by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and leading law enforcement officials, Quan mistakenly said that Oakland's police force was far more depleted than it actually was when she took office in 2011.
The federal COPS grant program has been crucial to Oakland's efforts to sustain its police department in the face of layoffs and budget cuts. Prior grants provided the city with 41 officers in 2009 and 25 officers in 2011. This year's allotment of 10 officers, while well received, served as a stark reminder that Washington likely won't be able to come to the city's aid as it has in recent years.
Lee said she has pushed to increase funding for the grant program but has faced stiff opposition from the Republican majority in the House. "We know that the effects of the sequester are real and that the dollars being awarded today are more and more scarce despite the need," she said.
Local law enforcement officials had floated a far more ambitious proposal. They sought federal funding to pay for 30 Oakland police officers, 30 Alameda County sheriff's deputies and 30 California Highway Patrol officers to form a countywide crime suppression team.
"There is no funding for that right now," Alameda County Undersheriff Richard Lucia said after Tuesday's news conference outside the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building in Oakland. Lucia said the eight deputies funded through the grant will be active in Oakland working in areas where the Sheriff's Office has mutual jurisdiction with city police, such as Highland Hospital, community college campuses and AC Transit routes.
The federal grant funds paying for 10 new officers will enable Oakland to reassign veteran patrol officers to the Operation Ceasefire project, which aims to reduce shooting and homicides by targeting the city's most violent criminal groups. The department has had to assign members of specialized crime reduction teams to the Ceasefire program to get it running at full strength, Interim Chief of Police Sean Whent said.
Hayward was the only other city in Alameda County to receive a COPS grant Tuesday. The city's $250,000 grant will pay for two school resource officers.
With violent crime sharply up over the past three years, Oakland officials have struggled to boost police staffing. Police academies haven't graduated as many recruits as anticipated and the department has been hit by a slew of retirements and resignations as several nearby departments eclipsed Oakland in pay.
Four departures on Monday dropped police staffing to 611 officers -- the exact same staffing level the department had before it graduated 37 officers earlier this year.
In her remarks on Tuesday, Quan said that when she became mayor, "we had less than 600 officers." The mayor, who has struggled at times to cite accurate police statistics, stood by her statement after the news conference, but city records show that Oakland had 656 officers when Quan took office in January 2011. After reaching a high of 837 officers in 2008, the police force has now twice dipped down to 611 officers -- the lowest figure since 1996, according to police records.
A new academy is scheduled to graduate 36 cadets on Friday, which would bring police staffing to 647. That is still below the 665 for which the department is authorized and the 900 officers that Whent said he'd like have.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.