NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Of Course Oakland Can't Afford These Cops

August 4, 2010

Oakland recently laid off 80 police officers, just over 10 percent of its total force, in order to balance the city's budget.  As a result, the city's police chief says cops will no longer respond to 44 categories of crimes, including grand theft.  The city's elected officials regret the change but say they simply cannot afford to maintain current staffing levels. 

At current levels of compensation, yes, Oakland cannot afford to maintain a police department with 776 employees.  That's because total compensation for an Oakland Police Department (OPD) employee averages an astounding $162,000 per year, says Josh Barro, the Walter B. Wriston Fellow at the Manhattan Institute: 

  • Cadets start out at a salary of $64,656 plus benefits (for comparison, the NYPD pays police academy attendees a starting salary of $44,744).
  • Once an OPD officer finishes training, he or she is entitled to a starting base salary, before overtime and benefits, ranging from $71,841 to $90,459.
  • Oakland police receive a generous health plan with the premium paid entirely by the city, for single or family coverage; for family coverage, this benefit was worth $15,859 as of 2009, compared to a California private sector mean of $9,159.
  • The city also makes the entire pension contribution on behalf of police officers -- 9 percent of their salary and overtime pay. 

Unfortunately, Oakland officials have been previously unwilling -- and are now unable -- to rein in those compensation costs.  The police union points to a contract signed two years ago and notes that it is entitled to its generous wage and benefit package, says Barro. 

Threatened with layoffs, the union offered that officers would (gradually) assume the responsibility to make retirement contributions in exchange for a three-year no-layoff promise.  But the city only offered a one-year pledge, saying that it couldn't necessarily afford current staffing levels (plus rising health costs) for three years.  The union declined this offer, leading the city to layoff officers, but employee compensation will remain in place. 

What is going on in Oakland is an example of a phenomenon being seen across the country: states and cities choosing between providing services to the public or maintaining luxury compensation for public employees.  More often than not, public employee unions have been winning this fight, forcing service cutbacks, says Barro. 

Source: Josh Barro, "Of Course Oakland Can't Afford These Cops," Real Clear Markets, July 20, 2010. 

For text: 


Browse more articles on Economic Issues