Budget-Strapped Oakland Spent $1.8 Million on Unusable Police Equipment While Laying Off Cops

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Oakland Police Department doesn’t need any more bad news.

The federal government says it may have to take over the department after a decade of failed reform attempts. The department’s beleaguered new radio system, which only works sporadically, was a “train wreck” when President Barack Obama came to town last month. And budget cuts have forced painful layoffs, including 80 officers in July 2010. 

Now a new report by City Auditor Courtney Ruby documents that the budget crunch could have been less painful if the police department hadn’t wasted $1.8 million on equipment it used rarely or not at all. Police Chief Howard Jordan did not dispute the findings.

The lion’s share ($1.2 million) of the wasted money was spent in 2007-08 on a camera system for patrol cars to record interaction between the police and public. It never worked properly and the vendor went out of business.

Nearly half a million dollars was expended on ShotSpotter, a system that detects gunshots and alerts police dispatchers. But the department could only afford one computer to handle the incoming alerts, but that didn’t really matter. It couldn’t afford to assign a dispatcher to the computer.

The $81,866 E-Citation system that helped track racial-profiling data never worked and the company that made it folded. And the $65,000 Evalis personnel-management system that was to help identify at-risk behavior by officers wasn’t completed before the vendor closed up shop.

An $18 million radio communications system, deployed in June 2011, still doesn’t work right but wasn’t included in the auditor’s report. Its 14 categories of problems include “unable to transmit,” “poor transmission,” “intermittent signal,” “dead spots” and “failed radio.”  When President Obama visited, many of the 100 officers assigned to his security were unable to communicate.

The city has been operating under a Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA) and federal oversight since 2003 to resolve allegations of police misconduct raised in the Delphine Allen v. City of Oakland lawsuit. It became known as the “Riders” settlement. The civil suit grew out of charges against four officers that included kidnapping, false imprisonment, assault with a deadly weapon and filing false police reports. 

A federal judge appointed a monitor for the department in January, moving it one step closer to being put in receivership. Last week, the monitor called the department’s efforts at reform “almost stagnant.”

–Ken Broder 


To Learn More:

Monitor: Oakland Police Reforms Lagging (by Demian Bulwa and Matthai Kuruvila, San Francisco Chronicle)

Oakland Police Bought Equipment It Never Used (by Matthai Kuruvila, San Francisco Chronicle)

Audit: OPD Squandered Millions in Taxpayer Dollars (by Nick Smith, ABC News)

Police Technology Performance Audit: FY 2006-07 through 2010-11 (Oakland City Auditor) (pdf)

Oakland Police Radios Fail During Obama Visit (by Jaxon Van Derbeken, San Francisco Chronicle)

Oakland Police and Fire Communications System Is Failing (by Ken Broder, AllGov)

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