OAKLAND -- More than 50 Rockridge residents gathered at the Rockridge Branch Library to discuss the cost of public safety.
Panelists at the Feb. 22 town hall included Donna Hom, the budget director for the city of Oakland; Paul Figueroa, interim assistant police chief; Sara Bedford, director of Department of Public Services for the city of Oakland; District 1 Councilman Dan Kalb; and Nicolas Heidorn, board member of Make Oakland Better Now, a grass-roots group committed to improving public safety, public works, and responsible budgeting in Oakland.
The discussion was moderated by Richard Raya, a past executive president of Youth Radio. Hom said the base salary for an Oakland police officer is $59,000 -- and that each Oakland resident spends $447 on police services a year. Most of the funding for police comes from the city general fund -- 39 percent of the general fund goes toward police. The second largest source of funding for police is from Measure Y funds.
Figueroa said that despite an understaffed Police Department, violent crime has dropped in the city by 27 percent. While there are 618 sworn officers on the force, there are 104 cadets in two police academies set to graduate by July. Figueroa projects that staffing levels will be at 707 officers by March 2015.
Heidorn noted that the Police Department was still considered to be understaffed at 800 officers in 2006. An ideal staffing level for the department would be around 900 officers, depending on the report. Currently, 68 problem-solving officers are funded by Measure Y, which is due to expire at the end of the year.
"I do not want to see those officers go away," Heidorn said.
A recent survey showed that 60 percent of voters would approve another public safety parcel tax, short of the 66 percent needed to pass. The survey was commissioned by East Bay Asian Youth Center, Jobs and Housing Coalition, Make Oakland Better Now!, Oakland Community Organizations and Youth Alive.
When voters were further informed about the public safety parcel tax, those who said they would approve a measure rose to 70 percent. This indicates a lot of residents would need to be informed in order to pass the tax, Heidorn said.
"But as a community, I believe that we can't police our way out of these problems," Raya said.
Bedford oversees several nonprofits that provide social services to residents in need and her department receives $6.6 million from Measure Y and funding from state and federal sources. The current focus is on high-risk individuals, Bedford said.
"There are continuous assessments that the interventions are working," she said.
Bedford's work is an important part of the Ceasefire program. Participants are offered a variety of resources that can help them transition into a lifestyle away from crime and violence. Kalb pointed out that the programs are still underfunded.
"Even though funding has been increased this year, it's still not as much as we'd like," Kalb said. "We are still making choices."
"An underfunded program looks like a program that isn't working. We have to get more and more strategic and decide where to make the investment where it will be most successful," Bedford said.
"I have yet to see one organization provide any statistics (demonstrating their success)," said Karen Ivy, the secretary for the Greater Rockridge Crime Prevention Council. "This is why people are skeptical. You say you are audited. Can you train these people to give a decent statistical presentation?"
Bedford assured that her organization does have statistics of the programs in place and that with restructuring they would be more easily accessible to the public.