SAN LEANDRANS VALUE PUBLIC SAFETY; SAN CARLOS DISBANDED IT FORCE TO SAVE MONEY, WILL YOU?
By Steven Tavares
San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy did not get off to a good start with the city’s police officers. His stance on pensions angered the powerful Police Officers Association, but a plan floated by the new mayor may pale in comparison to having officers pay more for their pension.
City insiders for weeks have noted rumors Cassidy is open to the option of looking at whether the cash-strapped city should outsource its police department services to outside jurisdictions, namely the far more fiscally-challenged Alameda County Sheriff Department.
Such talk is both political explosive and bold. After Monday’s swearing-in of new San Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli, the president for the Police Officers Association said he broached the subject to Cassidy during a recent meeting with the mayor. "I asked him, but I don't think he's leaning that way." said Sgt. Mike Sobek. Amid election rhetoric last year, Sobek described Cassidy as “no friend of the POA,” but after meeting Cassidy, he found him bright and articulate.
San Leandro residents consistently rate public safety as their overwhelmingly top priority. This is no different than any other municipality and could difficult reach for Cassidy in attracting support among residents. There is precedent, though, in San Leandro, in addition to across the Bay in San Carlos where the city council last year voted to outsource its 85-year-old police department to the county.
San Leandro’s fire services were outsourced to the county earlier this decade without much disruption in service, but any plan to disband the police department would be difficult to pull off. “The residents of San Leandro would not be in favor of it,” said Sobek. While doubting such a plan would ever get off the ground, he nonetheless lamented the numbers of officer, a majority of whom grew up in the city losing a chance to defend their home.
Last June, San Carlos became one of the first Bay Area cities to disband their police force. The impetus for the move was necessitated, the council said, by a budget deficit in the neighborhood of $3 million, two-thirds of which would be saved by outsourcing the department to the county. San Leandro’s current budget deficit for the next fiscal year in June could be similar without a rise in revenue in the next few months.
Detractors of outsourcing say cities risk losing control of their public safety apparatus in addition to the ethical question of whether the importance of police and fire services are paramount over other sections of city budget.