"There's a certain pride about being able to make it as an Oakland police officer," KTVU reporter Ken Wayne noted in a story last week about Oakland, Calif., police compensation. For the majority of those hard-working Oakland cops, there also must be a pride in not abusing a contract that invites abuse. Thanks to a cushy contract, Oakland police are entitled to 60 days of paid sick leave per year.
That's right: 60 days. The contract has expired, but remains in force as city solons and the police union are negotiating a new contract.
The Oakland Police Department's patrol division is chronically understaffed. A June grand jury report found, "As many as 20 percent of the officers assigned to work patrol on a given day are absent due to attendance at a school, injury, illness, vacation or other reason." Hence the department's heavy reliance on overtime.
(To make matters worse, the grand jury reported that its ability to examine Oakland police overtime was "severely restricted by an alarming lack of records documenting how overtime was assigned and used.")
Which is why you would think city pols would not agree to a sick policy with no disincentive for abuse. Rich Gregson, executive director of the California Peace Officers' Association, was surprised at the policy. "Where's the incentive to not use your sick days?" Where's the incentive to not take what he calls "the hell with it" days?
According to KTVU, some 13 percent of Oakland police used more than 12 sick days last year. San Francisco, Richmond and San Jose police departments provide 12 days of paid sick leave. Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker told the television station that 60 days of sick leave is "unheard of in our profession."
Union head Bob Valladon told me that the force average of sick days taken is 2.8 days per employee per year. Valladon also argued that, because Oakland police do not accrue sick days -- and be it noted that some California municipalities compensate officers for unused sick time when they retire -- Oakland taxpayers benefit from the policy.
Gil Duran, spokesman for Oakland Mayor and state attorney general wannabe Jerry Brown, told me that 60 days "may sound to most people out of the ordinary, but most people don't strap on a flak jacket and a handgun before heading out the door." According to Duran, there are "no signs of abuse."
I'll agree with this: Oakland police have a difficult job and they deserve to be well paid for the dangers they assume -- and they are. The annual salary range is $69,162 to $87,172. With shift differentials, pay increases for degrees and overtime, average officer pay exceeds $100,000. God bless them, a large number take no sick days whatsoever.
This month, the Oakland homicide toll reached 89. Oakland's out-of-control crime problems mean Oakland police will be working overtime again.
"The reason we need so much overtime is the criminals outnumber the police," said Duran. "We need every officer we can get, every hour they can spare."
If so, why have 60 days of paid sick leave?