Richmond will set aside millions of dollars
to hire 37 new police officers even though the city has been
unable to fill existing vacancies.
By a 7-2 vote this week, the council earmarked $3.8 million
for the officers, with vague information about where the money
would come from. Despite requests from three council members and
a suggestion by City Manager Bill Lindsay to study the potential
impact on city finances, Councilwoman Maria Viramontes, who
wrote the proposal, refused.
"I'm not prepared to give up making the policy decision
tonight," Viramontes, who leads the council majority, said
Tuesday. "Adding police officers is the one thing that we know
will have a significant impact, and we need to do it."
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin voted against the funding designation,
arguing that the city will be hard-pressed to hire that many
officers in a highly competitive market and that the money
likely will go unused. Councilman Tom Butt also voted against
"Recruiting is difficult, and letting this money sit is
fiscally irresponsible when we have so many needs," McLaughlin
said. "It's unrealistic to see millions sitting idle in the
police budget when it could go to jobs development, after-school
services and other social services that address the root causes
The policy is geared toward raising the current police
staffing ratio of 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents to three
officers per 1,000 in the city's high-crime neighborhoods. The
recommended state ratio, according to Viramontes' report, is 2.3
officers per 1,000 residents. Viramontes' goal is to reach a
sworn complement of 215 officers by 2009, which would be the
most officers the city has staffed at one time. Currently, the
city employs 155 officers, 24 below its authorized complement.
But Viramontes did not explain the urgency for approving the
policy without a financial analysis, nor did she mention in her
proposal that the police department has been struggling for
months to recruit new officers for whom funding has already been
Viramontes' plan is similar to a failed proposal by
then-Mayor Irma Anderson in July. Anderson, who was voted out of
office in November, asked the council to approve a measure for
the ballot that would have taken $4 million from the general
fund to bring police staffing to a minimum of 215 officers.
Anderson wanted another $2.5 million for anti-violence programs.
But the council majority -- including Viramontes and
Councilmen John Marquez, Nat Bates, Jim Rogers and Tony Thurmond
-- criticized Anderson's proposal as irresponsible and voted it
Viramontes' plan is different because some of the funding
would come from the Economic and Community Redevelopment budget,
But taking money from redevelopment funds to pay police
salaries is highly unusual and expensive. Because of the special
way the redevelopment agency leverages funds in the bond market,
taking, for example, $1 million out of its investment stream
would cost $12 million during a span of 30 years, according to
"We have to do something," Marquez said. "Other cities in
Contra Costa County are offering recruits more money and helping
them with down payments on homes -- all things we're not doing."
Starting salary for a police officer in Richmond is $71,292.
By comparison, Antioch's starting salary is $61,668, Brentwood's
is $65,520, and Concord's is $57,000.
Richmond city staff now will study the financial implications
of the new policy. But the backwards approach of first approving
policy then analyzing it later is reminiscent of the council's
poor decision-making in the years leading up to a catastrophic
2004 budget crisis. Between 1998 and 2002, the council
recklessly enhanced union agreements -- particularly with public
safety unions -- without studying the financial implications,
according to a 2004 state audit titled "City of Richmond: Poor
Spending Decisions and Weak Monitoring of its Finances Caused
It's Financial Decline and Hinder Its Ability to Recover."
"The city offered improved compensation packages to make them
competitive with those offered by other cities and retain highly
qualified candidates, thus improving the city's services," the
audit says. "Instead, the increased salaries and benefits led
the city to spend more than it could afford."
Richmond laid off more than 300 employees in 2003 and 2004
and made bone-deep cuts to city services, many of which have not
Staff writer Karl Fischer contributed to this story. Reach
John Geluardi at 510-262-2787 or at