Layoffs Included in Berkeley Police Department Proposal to Cut Costs

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Though the city of Berkeley has been consistently reluctant to lay off sworn personnel and uniformed staff, the Berkeley Police Department will not be immune to the city's acute economic realities, as budget woes at the federal, state and local levels continue to escalate.

At a special budget session before the Berkeley City Council March 22, Berkeley police Chief Michael Meehan outlined cost-saving measures to help combat the city's projected $12.5 million deficit in fiscal year 2012. The department faces an estimated $3.2 million budget reduction through fiscal year 2013, according to Meehan.

To nip costs associated with personnel - which consumes 92 percent of the department's annual budget - the department has proposed to eliminate nine vacant positions in fiscal year 2012 and another nine the following fiscal year. The unfilled positions include sworn police officers and office staff, according to city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross.

The proposed balancing measures will also terminate one full-time position in fiscal year 2013. If added to the city's proposed budget May 3, the city will eliminate the department's only crime analyst, a position that pays up to about $91,000 annually, according to city documents.

The city cut three department positions in fiscal year 2010 and another 5.5 positions in fiscal year 2011, saving an estimated $834,000 in fiscal year 2011 alone.

"Nobody here is interested in anybody being laid off, but I think the challenge is that we have to all think about the greater good for both our staff and for the community," Councilmember Susan Wengraf said at the meeting.

The proposed measures arrive in light of the projected $12.5 million citywide deficit for fiscal year 2012, which is largely attributed to a decrease in city revenue and an increase in expenditures associated with rising health care costs and pension rates.

At the meeting, Meehan said the department may rely on external funding to offset any impacts of the cuts. The department is currently seeking grant funding from UC Berkeley for data analysis, state funding for alcohol beverage control and traffic and federal funding for technological advancements.

Despite these efforts, the proposed cuts will have an impact on department services such as neighborhood coordination, response time to calls, crime analysis and parking violation enforcement, Meehan said at the meeting.

Meehan added that the department will work around the cuts by implementing new shift schedules and adopting new auditing policies, for example.

"And we're actually trying to reduce crime," Meehan added at the meeting.

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak suggested implementing salary freezes - rather than layoffs - across city departments to help "spread the pain." He also voiced support for implementing alternative policing measures like "civilianization," in which non-uniformed personnel could investigate nonviolent crimes.

"We have the unhappy task of trying to manage and trying to negotiate these treacherous waters," Councilmember Max Anderson said at the meeting. "But we will find a way, even if it's painful."

A more comprehensive outline, including the financial implications of the department's proposed balancing measures for the next two fiscal years, will be presented May 3, when a complete biennial budget will be proposed to the council.


Yousur Alhlou covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]

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