OAKLAND -- Misstatements about police matters have dogged Mayor Jean Quan since she took office, and now one of her rivals has seized on another apparent error.

In a bristling letter to the mayor on Wednesday, Councilwoman Libby Schaaf wrote that Quan's recent statements about taking office at a time when Oakland had the lowest number of budgeted police officer jobs was incorrect and created a false perception that the department had grown during her watch.

"The citizens of Oakland deserve honesty and transparency, especially when their public safety in on the line," wrote Schaaf, who is giving up her council seat to challenge Quan in the November election.

Councilmember Libby Schaaf, left, and Mayor Jean Quan listen to community members during an open forum at a special meeting of the council on Nov. 3, 2011,
Councilmember Libby Schaaf, left, and Mayor Jean Quan listen to community members during an open forum at a special meeting of the council on Nov. 3, 2011, in Oakland. (Aric Crabb/Staff)

During her State of the City address last month, Quan said, "When I came in as mayor we had the lowest amount budgeted for police officers, ... under 600."

She has made similar statements several times since that speech, but Schaaf says Quan got her facts wrong.

Pointing to the most recent police staffing report included with her letter, Schaaf notes that the department was authorized for 669 officers -- not fewer than 600 -- when Quan took office in January 2011.

Also Schaaf wrote that Quan should have known that the number of budgeted police jobs dropped during her term in office because Quan cast the tiebreaking vote in 2011 for a budget that further cut department funding in the face of a massive deficit. Schaaf had supported a less austere budget plan.

When it comes to the number of actual police officers working for the city, the staffing report cited by Schaaf indicates that Oakland had 660 officers when Quan took office, and that it briefly dropped to a low of 609 last year. Police staffing jumped from 611 to 658 last week with the graduation of a police academy. Another academy is scheduled to graduate in three months.

Quan started focusing on the number of officers authorized in the budget rather than the actual number of officers employed by the city following a mistake last year. During the announcement of a federal police grant, she said Oakland had fewer than 600 officers when she took office.

In response to Schaaf's letter, the mayor released a statement citing her work rebuilding a department devastated by layoffs and years without police academies.

"What's most important to the people of Oakland is that public safety is our priority and that we have a well-equipped, well-staffed police department," Quan wrote. "We are doing that work and we are getting results."

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.