In-depth look at proposed police layoffs
Sacramento Police and union officials warned Thursday a spike in crime is expected if 81 cops are laid off when the City Council approves a budget.
Police officers – angered over the likelihood that dozens of them are about to lose their jobs – are vowing to take action come election time, said detective Mark Tyndale, vice president of the local police union, the Sacramento Police Officers Association.
On Tuesday, the Sacramento City Council tentatively voted to make deep budget cuts that would include slashing $12.2 million from the police department’s budget and laying off 81 sworn officers and 68 civilian police employees. If the council approves the 2011/2012 budget with a final vote as expected June 21, the officers will be laid off July 1.
Police Chief Rick Braziel on Wednesday announced losing that many officers would force the department to reduce services. The department would eliminate more than a dozen specialized units, including gang crimes, narcotics, high-tech crimes, traffic, marine, mounted, bike and foot patrols.
The department would shift its focus to core services, mainly handling emergency calls and investigating major crimes required by law including murders, rapes and robberies. Bad guys will commit more crime because citizen crime reports will drop. That will provide police with fewer tips that can help stop criminals earlier in their careers, Braziel said Thursday.
"I expect crime to go up. You’ll see criminals getting away with more because there are just less of us out there," Braziel said by phone. "The ultimate victim in all of this is the community. That’s who suffers most."
Patrol officers who have the least seniority in the department are the ones facing layoffs. Detectives would be reassigned to fill those patrol slots or the remaining investigation units, such as homicide, robbery, sexual assaults or general investigations, Police Department spokesman Sgt. Norm Leong said.
The city has the right to lay off officers and would not be violating a contract with the union by doing so, according to Tyndale and Leong.
Such cuts would mark the first time sworn officers have been laid off – for as long as anyone can remember – at least since the 1970s, Leong said.
SPOA members said they believe the council’s vote made it clear city officials aren’t interested in negotiating any contract concessions in lieu of layoffs. No negotiations have begun, and none are expected before the budget is approved by the council, Tyndale said.
"Everybody’s hoping some miracle can occur," he said. "I just don’t see (it) at this point."
Morale among police officers is low. Tyndale said union members believe the six City Council members who tentatively approved the layoffs have turned their backs on police. Councilman Steve Cohn, Mayor Kevin Johnson and Councilwoman Angelique Ashby voted against the tentative decision.
According to Tyndale, union members think the six council members created a "mess." Officers are now saying, " ‘This (2012) is an election year. You guys are going to pay for this mess you made,’ " Tyndale said.
A total of 372 positions have been cut from the department over the last three years. Those were either civilian layoffs, or vacant posts that had been filled by civilians or sworn officers. The officer posts were vacant due to attrition through retirements or resignations, he said.
The total of sworn officers who would be cut now stands at 81 due to a retirement. That would leave 620 full-time officers – of 701 currently – working for the department. The department currently employs 318 civilians. The cuts would leave 250.
In addition, 17 vacant slots would be eliminated under the current budget plan, Leong said.
If that happens, the department won’t have the investigation units or number of officers needed to keep Sacramento streets safe, Tyndale said.
"It is going to destroy Sacramento," said Tyndale, a detective with the sexual assault investigations unit who has served with the department 23 years. "It will completely devastate us – the department and the community."
However, 35 officers could be immediately rehired if the department wins a waiver on a federal grant that would provide funding to restore those positions. Police officials don’t know when the exemption might be granted, Leong said.
A union representing 1,400 other city employees has been calling for "balance and equity" in layoffs among all city employee groups in order to balance the budget. At Tuesday night’s council meeting, a business representative from Stationary Engineers Local 39 described claims about the impact of public safety cuts as "civil terrorism."
"The city can no longer afford to spare any group during this economic crisis," Local 39 official Linda Norman told the council. "I am also speaking out against the city’s public safety unions’ recent campaign of what I will call ‘civil terrorism.’
“Through the use of media announcements, door hangers and lawn signs, these public servants are perpetrating a negative, harmful and divisive atmosphere, saying any reduction of public safety funding will leave our citizens vulnerable and unprotected from increased crime," she said.
SPOA President Brent Meyer later described those comments as unprofessional.
The units that would remain include patrol, crime scene investigation, front counter assistance/security, K-9, helicopter and the criminal apprehension team, as well as the other investigation units mentioned previously. The department’s number of detectives would drop from 104 to 71 because some investigators will return to patrol, Leong said.
The crime scene investigation unit, currently staffed entirely by civilians, would be filled only by sworn officers as of July 1.
The department’s two full-time SWAT teams, which do a lot of specialized training and assist with investigations and arresting criminals, would become part-time. Cuts would mean they will work on patrol when not doing entries or training.
There will be some cost-savings from laying off administrative clerks or other civilians tied to the units that would be eliminated. However, the units aren’t being eliminated to save money. They’re being eliminated because there won’t be enough people left to fill them once officers are transferred to operational services such as patrol, Leong said.
As a result, officers will be responsible for handling so many cases they won’t be able to do as much proactive crime-fighting. And that will lead to a loss of expertise in such areas as narcotics and gang crime over time, he said.
Braziel has been meeting for months with his executive command staff, made up of deputy chiefs and captains, to determine how to reorganize the department if the council approved major police layoffs to help balance the budget.
The chief said he’s especially concerned because of the cumulative impact that may result if there are budget-induced layoffs in Sacramento County law enforcement agencies, in addition to an expected upcoming prisoner release, loss of social services and lack of jobs for prisoners.
The layoffs aren’t spread out more evenly throughout the department because they must be made based on seniority. The majority of patrol officers are the newest members of the squad.
The announcement the units would be eliminated is not a negotiating tactic to get concessions from the union or City Council, according to Braziel and Leong.
"The police department has followed the direction of council who on Tuesday made it clear their intent is to move forward with the budget cuts, and there is nothing to indicate any foreseeable changes to the budget," Braziel said in an emailed statement.
Sacramento Press staff reporter Kathleen Haley contributed to this report. Suzanne Hurt is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @SuzanneHurt.