In an urgent bid to fill 60 vacant police positions to fight Oakland’s rising gun violence as soon as possible, an elected leader is proposing the city recruit officers from other departments by offering them $50,000 signing bonuses.
District 4 Councilmember and mayoral candidate Sheng Thao said Thursday she’ll ask her council colleagues to approve a plan that would give the cash bonuses to experienced officers who could hit the streets running. In addition, she proposes giving $20,000 bonuses to Oakland residents willing to enter and graduate from the police department’s rigorous training academies to become officers.
“My hiring plan will reduce the vacancies and bring good, experienced officers to Oakland,” Thao said, adding that a recruiting firm could do a nationwide search. Although other police departments also offer hiring bonuses, $50,000 would be more than what most pay.
Those accepting the $50,000 bonuses would have to agree to stay with the force at least five years. If they leave within the first 18 months, they would be required to return the entire amount; if they leave after 18 months but before five years, they would have to pay back a prorated sum.
Hiring from a pool of Oaklanders including women, minorities and LGBTQ residents should improve the relationship between police and the community, Thao said. “I believe there are many amazing dedicated residents here in the city of Oakland who are eager to protect and serve.”
The announcement comes just days after Mayor Libby Schaaf and council members Loren Taylor and Treva Reid — both of whom are also running for mayor next year — said they intend to unveil a proposal Friday to unfreeze numerous officer positions and add another police academy.
And it comes after the Walnut Creek City Council, in response to the recent invasion and ransacking of a downtown Nordstrom by about 80 people, earlier this week approved spending $2 million in federal funds to hire five additional officers, pay more overtime shifts, install security cameras and buy a new drone.
The chorus of calls for increased police presence reflect a shift in the public discourse about policing. Outcry following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in May 2020 sparked demands by advocates and elected officials around the country — including some Oakland council members — to reimagine and defund police departments.
But Oakland’s soaring crime rate and the recent rash of seemingly organized group burglaries of Bay Area stores have stirred a competing sentiment that more police, not fewer, are needed.
A man killed Sunday afternoon after confronting someone he suspected of burglarizing nearby cars became the 127th homicide investigated by Oakland police so far this year. It’s the highest number of killings in Oakland since 2012, when the police department reported 131 homicides.
“Residents and businesses are asking for a sense of urgency from city leaders,” Thao said Thursday. “No one is coming to save us, we’re going to have to save ourselves. That means being aggressive, creative and disruptive as we look to do things differently at City Hall, because the results are in, and what we are doing isn’t working.”
“Adding police officers will save lives,” said the Rev. Billy Dixon, a pastor of At Thy Word Ministries and a leader of the city’s Operation Ceasefire program, a collaboration between the police department and community leaders.
Guillermo Cespedes, chief of Oakland’s new Department of Violence Prevention, noted at a separate press conference Thursday that the surge of violence here and across the country beginning in 2019 is unprecedented for such a short period of time.
“I’m considered one of the top experts in the world, and I am humbled by the massive challenge that we have in front of us,” he said.
Earlier this week, Schaaf said Oakland currently has 677 officers and needs many more to properly respond to 911 calls and investigate all the homicides.
Under the Measure Z parcel tax that voters approved in 2014 to pay for police and violence-prevention programs, the city must staff at least 678 officers. If the number falls below that, the city cannot collect the tax, although there is a grace period to allow it to take steps to hire more officers.
To shore up the police department, the City Council in September approved Thao’s proposal to fund an additional police academy this fiscal year.
One academy is slated to end this month, sending a couple dozen graduating officers to the police department. Another academy that just started could send 38 graduates to the department next year.
The department currently is authorized for 737 officers. Thao said the hiring bonuses for experienced officers will provide a faster and more efficient way of getting the needed help, although they will have to go through some training.
Offering cash incentives for lateral police hires is not an unusual move. As they struggle to recruit and retain officers, police departments across the nation are offering hiring bonuses. Job listings on the Peace Officers Research Association of California website show departments offering $15,000 and $20,000 bonuses. The Alameda Police Department is offering $30,000 bonuses, for example, while BART’s police department pays $15,000 and San Francisco’s $5,000.
But police and some city leaders have questioned whether lateral hiring moves are effective, noting that officers from other departments may have had different training and standards than Oakland’s and may not be best suited for the department’s work.
Meanwhile, research is mixed on whether boosting police numbers reduces crime or how that strategy compares with violence-prevention measures.
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Author: Annie Sciacca