The real Berkeley Police Department crisis is the lack of reform

4-13-18-opinion-police1

In recent months, Berkeley Police Department has been sounding an alarm on what it sees as a department in crisis. The website for the department’s police union — Berkeley Police Association, or BPA — complains about a perceived lack of financial resources and accuses Berkeley City Council of not making its officers a priority. The association goes on to say that officers are leaving en masse for other departments or for retirement, citing anti-police sentiment among community members as a factor in this. But the truth is, the department is in crisis because of its own refusal to reform.

In 2016, the highest-paid police officer in Berkeley received $359,412 in pay and benefits. For a police department that complains about a lack of financial resources, one might think that a high six-figure salary is an anomaly for Berkeley cops. It is not. According to data compiled by Transparent California, 117 Berkeley police officers — more than half of the entire police force — took home $200,000 or more in pay and benefits in 2016. Seventeen Berkeley police officers received pay and benefits that exceeded $300,000, while the average pay and benefits for a Berkeley police officer was $198,156.

As a result, saying that BPD is underfunded is quite an incredible claim to make, especially when teachers in the Berkeley Unified School District only took home an average of $79,634 in pay and benefits in 2016. It makes sense that the average Berkeley police officer with 25 years on the force would want to retire when retirement would allow them to collect a fat pension of at least $150,000 every year until the day they die. Now, this is not to say that police officers should not be paid fair wages — all workers should be paid fairly. But when more than half of the employees were being paid over $200,000 a year in 2016, I find it quite insulting that BPA claims that its officers are not being paid enough, especially when some Berkeley teachers are struggling to pay for rent and food each month.

BPA is also worried about officers leaving to work for other police departments. On its website, the association claims that the department is affected by “anti-law enforcement sentiment,” which is causing officers to leave BPD for other agencies. The association goes on to claim that BPD is lacking resources found in many agencies across the country, such as a gang task force, canine officers, Drug Abuse Resistance Education officers, in-vehicle dashboard cameras and tasers — all of which, the association says, prevents its officers from providing the same level of service they have had in the past and from being competitive in hiring.

But from where I’m standing, BPD has proven time and time again that it cannot be trusted with more weapons and specialized units. If Berkeley police officers were equipped with tasers and pepper spray, how can we be sure that they wouldn’t be misused in a racialized manner? BPD has come under fire for many controversies in the past, including the use of tear gas at nonviolent protests and the aggressive handling of activists and people in the homeless community. Most notably, BPD faced backlash after Kayla Moore, a Black transgender woman, died in police custody — an incident in which the Police Review Commission found that a BPD officer had not followed appropriate protocol.

Enough is enough. BPD needs to change now. If an officer violates people’s constitutional rights, BPD needs to hold that officer accountable. The Berkeley community cannot allow racial profiling to occur — the community must be able to actually monitor police functioning. It is high time that BPD comes clean and produces documents explaining how much force is used, what police operations cost, who is involved, what the objectives are and any documentation that can prove that the $66 million budget set for BPD this year has actually had an impact on crime.

The Berkeley community must say “no” to any attempts to weaken what little oversight there is and demand that BPD begin the process of change. The stakes are too high for the status quo to continue.

Alex Li is a UC Berkeley junior studying business and political science as well as a facilitator for the Copwatch DeCal on campus.

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  • Stephen Douglas

    Alex Li, while not a journalism student, should nevertheless learn to check more than one source for information. In fact, a worthwhile project might be for the Daily Californian to do an in-depth study of the information on Transparent California, and the accuracy of their press releases.

    Start with their disclaimer and work backwards.

    • Alex Li

      Hi I am the author,

      Thank you for your comment. In the age of the internet, where anyone can write and publish false information, it is always important to check multiple credible sources to corroborate information.

      Transparent California obtains all their information by using the state equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act. All public employee pay data in the state of California is a public record, and subject to California Public Records Act (PRA) disclosure. The data obtained by Transparent California has been corroborated by other reputable sources like the Sacramento Bee which has also used the PRA to compile data on public salaries and pensions.

      (http://www.sacbee.com/site-services/databases/state-pay/%3B)

      Likewise, the data by Transparent California has also been corroborated by the state of California itself. The state of California runs a website which provides information on the pay and benefits of 2 million government employees, which you can cross reference with Transparent California here http://publicpay.ca.gov

      If you do not trust reputable news organizations or the state of California’s own website, you are also free to file a PRA request yourself with the City of Berkeley or your local city.

      Most people do not know that it is not uncommon for public employees in the state of California to take home $200,000+ in pay a year. One of the reasons I wrote this article was to help inform people of how their tax dollars were being spent.

      I am open about my biases when I wrote this op-ed. The article is quite open about the fact that I facilitate a class that is dedicated to ending police brutality and misconduct. Berkeley Copwatch is dedicated and tireless in its oversight of the Berkeley Police Department.

      If you have any more questions about the claims and statistics I used in this article feel free to message me on Disqus.

      From Alex

      • lspanker

        I am open about my biases when I wrote this op-ed. The article is quite open about the fact that I facilitate a class that is dedicated to ending police brutality and misconduct.

        Where do you have any proof that “police brutality and misconduct” are a problem in Berkeley?

        • He never said “Berkeley police”, he was disclosing up front and openly his “police bias” towards LE and police everywhere, as he teaches a class on it. Any potential bias should always be disclosed up front. Whether you agree or disagree to the scope and extent of police misconduct, only a fool or Badge Bunny would insist there is no police misconduct.

          • lspanker

            Once again, where is there any proof that this is a significant problem in Berkeley?

          • Well, you first said:
            “Where do you have any proof that “police brutality and misconduct” are a problem in Berkeley?
            To which I said “…only a fool or Badge Bunny would insist there is no police misconduct.”

            Now you changed your tune to:“…where is there any proof that this is a significant problem in Berkeley?”
            And I will repeat what I said earlier in response to your first question (the one you later changed):
            “Whether you agree or disagree to the scope and extent of police misconduct, only a fool or Badge Bunny would insist there is no police misconduct..”
            Comprehendo Amigo??

        • Alex Li

          My goals are simple. When I google “Berkeley Police Brutality”, I want to see zero results. I don’t wanna read about my police department smashing senior citizens in the head. I don’t want to read about police officers brutally arresting peaceful non violent protestors. I don’t want to read about 7 Berkeley police officers violently suffocating Kayla Moore to death. I don’t want to read about violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act as officers drag disabled homeless people and treat them like potato sacks instead of human beings.

      • Stephen Douglas

        Thank you for your response.

        Where to begin? First… “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”

        “…teachers in the Berkeley Unified School District only took home an average of $79,634 in pay and benefits in 2016.”

        If that average came from Transparent California, I’m sure they can justify it, and I won’t dig through their data to refute it. But… doesn’t that low number raise some red flags? A typical top scale salary for Berkeley teachers is well over $79,000.

        https://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/2016/school-districts/alameda/berkeley-unified/?page=1

        http://publicpay.ca.gov/Reports/PositionDetail.aspx?employeeid=18590529

        If that “average” came from TC, it must include part time, summer, and substitute teachers. “True-ish”, perhaps, but misleading.

        Also, note on the GCC website, that “defined benefit plan contribution” is approximately 10-12 percent of wages. It is important. More on that later.*
        ——————————————————

        “In 2016, the highest-paid police officer in Berkeley received $359,412 in pay and benefits.”

        Actually a police Captain, for what it’s worth. There is a substantial difference between salaries of management (Captain, Lieutenant, Sergeant) and actual patrol officers.

        Lest any reader infer that actual street level patrol officers typically earn anywhere near $359k.

        Don’t misunderstand, Berkeley and other Bay Area police do have pay and benefits apparently better than school teachers, on average, and that is a fair topic for discussion.

        “teachers in the Berkeley Unified School District only took home an average of $79,634 in pay and benefits in 2016.”

        “while the average pay and benefits for a Berkeley police officer was $198,156.”

        These are typical of Transparent California number crunching. We don’t know in either case if these averages include upper management and/or part time workers. We do know that “average pay” for police officers typically includes much more overtime than most other occupations, public or private. It is the nature of the occupation, and often a deliberate decision by city administration because it is cheaper to pay overtime than to hire more police. To use this higher OT to imply the officers are “overpaid” is naive at best and disengenuous at worst.

        Disclaimer? In my job, I have occasionally worked with police, including Berkeley Police. I am not, nor ever have been a LEO. No one in my family is in law enforcement. None of my friends are in law enforcement. My interest in this topic is that I see blatant misrepresentation, and I think it should be pointed out. Transparent California (NPRI) is a “non-partisan” think tank, but they do have an agenda.
        ———————————————-
        * “defined benefit plan contribution”

        As noted above, the contributions for teachers is about 10-12 percent of wages, as noted in the GCC website.

        Contributions for Berkeley Police are typically 50-60 percent of wages. Why?

        First and foremost, “normal contributions” for police are higher mainly due to earlier retirement ages. According to CalPERS, the normal cost for Berkeley miscellaneous employees is about 12 percent of wages (similar to the teachers contribution normal costs.)

        For police, the normal contribution is 22 percent.

        https://www.calpers.ca.gov/page/employers/actuarial-services/employer-contributions/public-agency-contributions

        So what? According to GCC and Transparent California, “defined benefit contributions” are closer to 60 percent of wages. That “extra” 38 percent is payment toward the unfunded liabilities, and most pension experts believe it should -not- be counted as “pay and benefits” in the current year. Why is it included by TC, and repeated in this article as “the average pay and benefits for a Berkeley police officer” ($198,156)?

        Short answer, the bigger the number, the better, according to TCs agenda. Longer answer…

        “Government jurisdictions in California do not maintain payroll and pension records in a uniform fashion. As such, and to help make the data easier to comprehend, we have consolidated some compensation categories.”

        And…

        “For pensions, all values reflect the actual monetary value of benefits received during the respective year reported.”

        (Transparent California disclaimer)

        ————————————–
        The actual salary range for Berkeley police officer (non supervisory), is $94,000 to $117,000. What I would call regular “take home pay” excluding OT and after 12 percent pension deduction and 25 percent income tax deduction would be closer to $55,000-$75,000.

        —————————————
        Transparent California often issues press releases that intentionally exaggerate the difference between public compensation and the private compensation of equivalent private sector employees. And on the surface, they have the sheen of believability.

        Such is my opinion, anyway. I still invite any reporter to do an in depth study of their methods, as well as the source of their funding.

        • Alex Li

          When “overtime” is spending thousands of dollars and sending dozens of Berkeley police officers at 3 AM to evict homeless people, then yes Berkeley does have a problem. Do you not see the perverse incentives? The Berkeley Police Union complains about a lack of officers while the officers that make up the Union profit handsomely off of overtime pay.

          You say “We do know that “average pay” for police officers typically includes much more overtime than most other occupations, public or private. It is the nature of the occupation, and often a deliberate decision by city administration because it is cheaper to pay overtime than to hire more police.”

          I agree, the Berkeley Police Department pays out tens of thousands of dollars in overtime for our brave officers to evict homeless people at 3AM. Maybe our government shouldn’t be wasting money that way.

          The reason average teacher pay is so low is because teachers do not have as many opportunities for overtime pay. Teachers are expected to grade homework and write up lesson plans without the ability to clock in profitable overtime pay. Berkeley police officers, on the other hand, can choose to evict homeless people every other month and rake in insane pay.

          • lspanker

            When “overtime” is spending thousands of dollars and sending dozens of Berkeley police officers at 3 AM to evict homeless people

            Then maybe the city should allocate the proper money for police staffing so they can handle those evictions on the third shift. Better yet, Berkeley should find a way to stop attracting all those homeless in the first place, given that the vast majority of them are transient indigents from out of town who are attracted by the naive students, the ready access to illegal drugs, and other aspects of the bum-friendly environment the lefty loonies have created over the years…

      • Most people do not know that it is not uncommon for public employees in the state of California to take home $200,000+ in pay a year.
        While many do take home $200K in “pay”, aka “salary”, the state “average” for LE and FF is $200K in total “compensation”, minus the overtime and vacation/sick leave/holiday time off which is NOT included in compensation. The “median” compensation for a CHP “patrol office” is $229K/year, the mean, or average, is actually higher because of outliers at the top and NO outliers at the bottom.

      • lspanker

        In the age of the internet, where anyone can write and publish false information

        You mean like claiming the cops killed that obese, violent loon known as Kayla Moore, correct?

  • donqpublic

    Well, to end racial profiling Berkley obviously needs more lower paid non-white police officers of color to end its white privileged sanctuary status among its racially profiling citizens. In the meantime dog, cat, and horse meat tacos are still forbidden in the city limits and People’s Park, where the city will be issuing pooper-scoopers to the homeless.

  • Alex Li swings, hits HOMERUN! Well done Alex…

    • lspanker

      Alex is a naive fool who has swallowed the anti-cop loony talking points hook, line, and sinker.

      • You are entitled to your opinion, just as Alex is.

  • LX5

    Pay all police in California the same salary. An additional payment for housing would be made, similar to medical insurance, which would be much more for police that work in expensive areas. The pension would be based on salary only.