Oakland police officer Malcolm Miller’s total pay and benefits was $640,736 last year, including $257,326 in overtime; another policeman, Timothy Dolan, earned $601,135, including $322,071 in overtime.
At a time when Oakland is potentially facing a significant budget shortfall because of the pandemic and community demands to ‘defund’ the police, the cost of just two of the city’s 792 sworn officers raises questions about how city officials allocates the taxpayers’ money.
But they are not alone. Salary information taken from the website “Transparent California,” a nonprofit agency that obtains employee salary data through the California Public Records Act (CPRA), reveals even more.
Of the nearly 5,933 employees who worked for the City of Oakland in 2019-2020, a total of 356 earned total salary benefits, plus overtime, in excess of $300,000. A total of 356 city employees earned salaries and benefits in excess of $300,000 – including 187 police officers and 137 Fire Department staff.
According to the CPRA, “the Legislature, mindful of the right of individuals to privacy, finds and declares that access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.”
Upholding these provisions, a court ruled in a case in 2007 “that the names and salaries of public employees, including peace officers, are not exempt from public disclosure under the California Public Records Act.”
The administration over the years has taken the position that nothing much can be done to reduce police overtime or to hold overtime expenditures within budgeted spending levels.
But one recent mayor, the late Ron Dellums, was unafraid to go head-to-head with the Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA) and in 2010 reduced overtime expenditures, keeping them within the budget.
When Dellums came into office, police management did not have the power to schedule officers without negotiating with OPOA. In practice, this meant that officers were scheduled Monday through Friday during the day. If they were needed to work on Friday and Saturday nights, and other times when there were greater public safety needs, they had to be paid overtime.
Earning the displeasure of the officers’ organization, Dellums and his police chief, Wayne Tucker, took the OPOA to arbitration and won changes in the way officers were scheduled for duty.
“They stood up to the OPOA,” said Kitty Kelly Epstein, a former staffer for Dellums. “Dellums and Tucker were determined to make a difference, and they did. This shows that a mayor and administration with backbone and commitment to the public can make a difference.”
At the same time that overtime went down, homicides fell by 40% under Dellums, indicating that costs can be reduced without sacrificing public safety.
A report from the City Auditor in 2019 found that the police department is unrealistic in the way it budgets for police overtime, that city policies are not being followed, and the “entire process is being poorly managed” according to a Channel 4News report on June 20, 2019.
“One of the things that stands out is how the overtime is clustered and that the auditor pointed out how there may be inappropriate self-dealing going on in terms of senior police officials who are in charge of designating overtime,” said Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan in the news report.
The city audit says one officer responsible for a lot of decision-making (was) the second highest overtime earner for …five fiscal years, and he consistently assigned himself to work many of the special events.
The audit also found that three sworn staff worked more than 70 days without a day off in violation of the department’s policies.
“We also identified instances in which OPD staff worked overtime when they were on paid leave such as sick, holiday, bereavement, military and family medical leave, in violation of the department’s policy,” the audit said.
Despite years of discussion about runaway overtime, controls are still lacking. “The department should review all situations when staff are working overtime, provide written authorization for exceptions, and implement appropriate management control to monitor when staff may work voluntary overtime and when staff may not work voluntary overtime,” the audit said.