Community Voice



Dear Council Members:

Let me acknowledge the tough job you face addressing the financial challenges our city and our nation faces as we move slowly out of a massive financial melt-down.  Adding to our worries are continuing closures of our business, and those in neighboring areas, such as Campbell Soup, Comcast and Coca-Cola to name a few.

Despite tough financial times, this council is poised to make monumental decisions in this budget that will affect quality of life for years to come.  In many cases, in well known dangerous areas, your decisions will truly be a matter of life and death.

I have grave concerns about violent crime and police staffing and how we address both in this budget for 2013/2014.  I stated during public comments on April 30, 2013, that this proposed budget is intellectually dishonest and council members should consider this factor when approving this budget.

Here is the problem.  For Measure U to pass, the council assured citizens the money would go to restore core city services and stressed law enforcement would remain a prominent recipient of Measure U funds.  The intellectual dishonesty occurs in this budget when the city manager eliminates 29 funded, yet vacant, positions from the police department and then proposes use of Measure U funds to hire an additional 58 police officers.  The scam employed here is plain as day.  Measure U funds were intended to grow an already cut-to-the-bone police force, but what the city manager is pulling now feels like a classic case of “bait and switch.”

Let me offer an analogy.  If you bought a home after doing a walk-through, you were probably happy with what you saw.  You later acquire the keys, enter the home and find all ceiling fans are gone, two hot water heaters have been removed and all of the elegant bathroom fixtures have been replaced with used and worn items.  You find a note that reads, “The missing items were not part of the sale.”  You would feel you had been swindled; and it is the same feeling when 29 funded police officer positions are cut from the police department and then Measure U funds are applied to hire officers.  As a citizen, you just feel government has swindled you again.

Hopefully a council member(s) will stand up for the people who voted for Measure U and for the police officers who are doing a very dangerous job with too few staff members.  Everyone knows crime is a major problem – it is why we passed Measure U.  The Mayor’s Crime Task Force has not achieved a handle on crime.  There is still much work to do.  We keep losing kids to crime and prisons.  Crime is hurting our local economy and our city’s image.  Our crime in Sacramento continues to remind us of racism in a two tiered America.  On one tier we still have people of color suffering the horrors of wide-spread crime and poverty.  We need at least one councilmember to show leadership and stand up and give voice to this issue.

At council on April 30, I noted that Sacramento has a gang war starting and shootings appear on the rise.  We need many-many more police officers on the streets.  Think about where we are right now and consider this portion of a 2012 Sacramento Bee article on rising crime numbers:

Police Department staffing has fallen during that same period.  The agency hit an all-time high of about 800 sworn officers in 2008.  There are now about 650, a decline of almost 20 percent, said police Capt. Mike Bray, who oversees the Criminal Intelligence Unit.

In the most recent round of budget cuts, 16 officers lost their jobs at the end of June.  Another 31 vacant positions were axed.      

The ongoing erosion of police officers caused proactive policing (crime prevention) to nearly disappear.  In the void of a meaningful police presence and the lack of specific street crime suppression efforts it is no wonder Sacramento still feels like the second most violent city in California, behind Oakland.

Now consider the Oakland California experience with police staffing and violent crime.  The following is a portion of a 2013 news article about Oakland’s challenges:

The department has struggled to develop a crime plan since July 2010, when the City Council laid off 80 officers in a dispute over job security and pensions.  The force declined from roughly 776 officers before the layoffs to a historic low of 611 this March as officers continued to retire and leave.

The shrunken ranks pushed department leadership to prioritize patrol shifts and 911 response – and de-emphasize investigations.  Even after a police academy graduated in March that boosted the number of officers, now around 640, all officers in the department work a mandatory overtime shift every 10 days to fill open patrol shifts.         

As I expressed to your body on April 30, this council seems locked in an all-or-nothing battle with the police union over a 12% pension contribution.  I have no problem with working toward pension reforms and the police union is working towards some solutions (they worked with the city and cleared the way for a new tier of officers to be hired at lower costs).  But, I do have a problem with an approach that draws a line in the sand, appears ego driven, reeks of inflexibility and may drive us to a breaking point like that in Oakland.  Sure Oakland’s leaders laid off officers in a pension dispute and some may say they courageously “held the line.”  But, what was the cost?  Look at Oakland now!  They did not do their citizens any favor.  The city is drowning in crime and they appear desperate to get more officers to work there.  Let us not go the way of Oakland.  Sacramento’s citizens deserve better.

I know council members face tough choices.  But you made policy choices when you dedicated $8.5 million to renovate the Community Center Theater.  It was a policy choice when you committed $5 million towards a facility for the Sacramento Ballet.  You made numerous policy choices to fund various aspects of different arena deals.  When it come to the arts, you don’t mind expressing your values in the budget, but when it comes to giving a voice to improving public safety in our worst crime areas we get smoke-and -mirrors and elusiveness.

Here is a suggestion.  Although the 24.4 million we are holding in budget reserve represents 6.6% of the 10% goal we have set, can we really justify not using a small amount of that reserve to keep the 29 funded, yet vacant, positions in the police department.  This council shows interest in the arts – now you must show commitment to our kids.  We have kids getting shot all the time.  The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors recently embraced a report by a Sacramento County Blue Ribbon Commission entitled “Report on Disproportionate African American Child Deaths.”  The commission found that, “African American children comprised 12% of the child population and 32% of third-party child homicide deaths.”  We need a serious commitment from the council to deal with crime.

Based on various information points, preserving the 29 positions in the police department (keeping us at about 615 officers) and adding 58 officers through Measure funds would take us to about 673 officers.  While I know we need more officers to properly control crime, getting us near 700 officers is a fair start and it shows your commitment to our kids and it is in keeping with the promise you made to citizens regarding allocations of Measure U funds.  If there is another reason to eliminate the 29 position, for example to ensure that no new hires come in at the old higher pay rate, that’s fine but we ought to have a commitment from the city manager and council that the 29 funded positions will be add to the 58 for a total of 87 new hires under the new compensation rate.

In conclusion, there are portions of our city where crime and violence are deplorable.  Police protection is one of those things the people cannot do for themselves.  It takes government action.  There is a great injustice when our leaders look at some of our citizens, particularly those families of color who are experiencing most of the violence and losing kids, and these leaders say we won’t help you right now because we want to save 24.4 million dollars in reserve funds.  Why can we not save 22 million and use 2.4 million, or so, for public safety.  In your vote on this budget that is what lingers just under the surface of discussions – not doing everything we can to address crime in some communities so we can save a couple of million dollars.  Which council member would want their child’s safety to come up on the short end of that policy choice?

Citizens should be able to trust their elected leaders are not being intellectually dishonest with them and they should be confident the safety and security of all citizens are equally important.

Henry Harry

All members of the council were sent this letter.

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