From: Oakland Tribune
Contract talks between the Oakland Police Officers Association and the city of Oakland broke down Wednesday over the city’s demand that the police chief have more flexibility to run the department.
However, union lawyers blamed the impasse squarely on police Chief Wayne Tucker and his public pronouncements that the contract’s provisions have made it impossible for him to manage the department.
“Many of the problems befalling the Oakland Police Department are a direct result of the city’s failure to adequately staff the department,” according to attorney Rocky Lucia’s letter to city officials. “The suggestion that the OPOA (contract) is impeding the chief’s ability to protect the citizens of Oakland is patently absurd.”
Tucker said he was disappointed by the deadlock, adding that his mission was to bring the Oakland Police Department into the 21st century.
Through his spokesman, Mayor Ron Dellums said he supported the chief and his vision for the department 100 percent.
At a community meeting Monday night, Dellums said it was critical for police officers to be effectively and efficiently deployed, and he reiterated his belief that community policing is the answer to the crime plaguing Oakland, which is down about 8 percent from this time last year.
The police union has long been a political force to be reckoned with at City Hall, with many criticizing its agreement with the city as overly generous. The impasse is a result of a united City Council, along with Dellums, who made the contract an issue in the June election, pushing back in an effort to wrest power from the union, several City Hall sources said.
Oakland police officers are the best paid among California’s 10 largest cities, with a starting salary of $69,100, full family health coverage and a retirement package that allows them to retire at age 50 with 3 percent of their highest salary. “We offered them a generous package,” Tucker said. “They do a tough job.”
Lucia said the union and its contract were being used as a “scapegoat” to deflect attention from the city’s lack of commitment to its police department.
According to the City Charter, a mutually agreed-upon arbitrator will write a new contract for the department’s officers, sergeants and lieutenants. That lengthy, expensive process could take as long as a year. Until then, the terms of the contract that expired June 30 will remain in effect.
Lucia said he was looking forward to “aggressively” representing the union’s position in arbitration.
The main issue during the 10 months of challenging negotiations was city officials’ demand that the union give up the power to block the police chief from changing “past practices,” such as scheduling, deployment, benefits for union board members and holiday pay.
That clause gives the union a significant amount of leverage over the operations of the department, and makes it difficult to respond to emerging crime trends, according to city officials.
City officials called the past practices clause “a pig in a poke,” saying the City Council would not be clear on what it was approving when it ratified the contract.
However, Lucia said the city’s position does not “withstand scrutiny” from a legal or historical perspective and officials had never been able to show him evidence that it had interfered with the chief’s ability to run the department.
“The reality is the department does not have enough officers,” Lucia said. “This is a shell game they play with the citizens of Oakland.”
Among the past practices the city wants to do away with include the department’s generous holiday pay policy, which allows officers to choose to work — and earn 21/2 times their pay — regardless of whether they are needed on duty, officials said. That provision alone costs the city more than $1 million a year, officials said.
In addition, the city no longer wants to pay the full salary of the president of the police union and half of the vice president’s salary.
City officials also noted that the union used the past practices clause a year ago to block Tucker from redeploying officers to night and weekend shifts in response to a wave of robberies and homicides. The union relented when the council threatened to declare a state of emergency and disregard the contract’s provisions.
In addition, the city wants to reduce officers’ sick leave from 60 days a year to 30 and to cut the amount of compensatory time an officer can accrue from 480 hours to 240.
The city’s last formal offer to the police union was for a two-year contract, with 2 percent annual raises. However, after the end of formal negotiations in October, the city offered 4 percent annual raises in addition to a 3 percent bonus for giving up the past practices clause, officials said. That offer is now off the table.
Lucia declined to comment on the details of negotiations.
The city’s goals for a new contract were shaped in large part by two documents: a 2005 audit of the police department that recommended a host of changes to reduce the amount of money spent on overtime and Tucker’s 2006 plan for the police department.
There are 83 officer vacancies in the police department, and 32 other nonsworn openings, including criminalists and fingerprint analysts, despite more than a year of constant testing and training of recruits. Because of accelerating retirements, the department is not expected to be fully staffed with 803 officers until 2008.