Oakland police graduate 35 new officers

Oakland police graduated 35 new officers Friday at a ceremony at the Scottish Rite Center, police said.

Chief Sean Whent welcomed the graduates, cautioning that with their new profession comes “immense authority” and “immense responsibility.”

The 35 new recruits bring the total number of police officers in the city to 717, according to Deputy Mayor Sandré Swanson. Swanson said the Police Department has graduated five academies in the past four years in an effort to shore its ranks after dropping to what some city councilmembers called dangerously low staffing levels.

In May, Councilmembers Libby Schaaf and Noel Gallo released a report detailing what they described as an intentional failure of the department to recruit members. According to the report, the council’s budget authorized a police force of 665 officers, which was raised to 675 officers in January after the department received a federal grant.

“At no time since we adopted this budget has our police force come close to its budgeted strength,” the report reads.

Schaaf and Gallo called for the adoption of monthly 30-day recruitment reports and staffing projections, along with regular reports that describe actions taken to address the staffing shortfall.

According to the Police Department’s most recent monthly staffing report, the department reached a peak staffing of 830 officers in 2009 and had a low of 613 officers in 2013, with an average staff of 714 officers from 2000 to 2013.

Another police academy started Sept. 29 with 60 police officer trainees, with an expected graduation date of April 3, 2015, according to the police staffing report.

The most recent graduating class includes officers who speak a variety of languages, including Spanish, Cantonese, Hindi, Urdu, Japanese, Korean and Russian, police said.

Fifteen of the class members are college graduates, four are women and 10 are Oakland residents, reflecting the diversity of the force, police said.

“The 35 graduates will be a welcome addition to our Oakland family and represent another step forward in our efforts to grow the police department and increase public safety in the city of Oakland,” police representatives said in a statement.

In 2004, Oakland voters passed Measure Y, which provides approximately $19 million every year for 10 years to fund violence prevention programs, additional police officers, and fire services.

Roughly 60 percent of the funds from Measure Y go to the Police Department to enhance Oakland’s community policing program and add “problem solving officers” to the Oakland Police Department ranks, according to the city of Oakland’s website.

Oakland voters will decide next week on Measure Z, which is an extension of Measure Y with some additional provisions attached. Under Measure Z, the City Council would allocate $22 million annually for ten years with three percent of the funds going to evaluation and audits, according to the city of Oakland’s website.

The Fire Department would receive $2 million annually and 60 percent of the remaining funds would go towards the Police Department and 40 percent would go to funding violence prevention and intervention strategies.

Under the measure, police would be required to maintain 678 sworn police personnel.