When Oakland City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente announced last week that he was giving up his District Five seat to run this fall against at-large Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, he made it clear that he intends to portray himself as a law-and-order candidate. De La Fuente is already pointing to his proposals for more gang injunctions and a youth curfew — and Kaplan’s opposition to those ideas — as proof that he’s tough on crime and she’s not. In reality, however, public safety has not been a top priority for De La Fuente during his long tenure on the council. He also was the driving force for why Oakland now has far fewer cops than it did just two years ago.
Indeed, if you believe that the spike in violent crime this year in Oakland is the result of the city having too few police officers, then De La Fuente’s portrayal of himself as a law-and-order candidate doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. De La Fuente, in fact, was the primary backer of a plan to lay off lots of Oakland police officers in 2010. At the time, the city was in negotiations with the police union over pension benefits, and De La Fuente argued forcefully that if police officers refused to help pay for their retirement plans, then the city should lay off 150 cops.
De La Fuente was on the city’s negotiating team with Councilwoman Jane Brunner, and his demand for police layoffs greatly upset police union officials — so much so that they refused to bargain with him. De La Fuente’s stance also caused a schism with his longtime close friend and ally, ex-state Senator Don Perata, who was running for mayor at the time. Perata was flatly against forcing the union to pay into its pension plan, and instead advocated for more cuts in city services and a half-cent sales tax increase to raise revenues.
Ultimately, however, De La Fuente’s position prevailed. When the police union refused to contribute 9 percent into its pension plan, De La Fuente convinced a majority of the council to vote to lay off eighty police officers.
(Disclosure: We agreed with that decision back in 2010 — and still do. But we aren’t claiming to be a law-and-order newspaper. We also believe it was unfair for other city employees to pay into their pensions when police officers were not doing so. It should also be noted that Kaplan voted against the police layoffs. She argued that the city should have returned to the bargaining table with the police union.)
Last year, De La Fuente also helped block an effort to hire back some of the officers who were laid off. In addition, he also was the lone member of the council to demand that the city slash an additional $2.3 million from the police department — even after the union agreed to finally pay 9 percent into its pension plan.
In late June 2011, Kaplan, along with Councilwomen Pat Kernighan, Nancy Nadel, and Libby Schaaf, had proposed using proceeds from the sale of the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center to hire back 44 police officers who had been laid off the year before. But De La Fuente helped lead the effort to stymie that proposal, and replace it with a plan to rehire fewer officers; Brunner, Councilwoman Desley Brooks, and Councilman Larry Reid joined him. With the council stalemated 4-4, Mayor Jean Quan sided with De La Fuente’s plan to rehire fewer cops.
As a result, because of the layoffs, the rehiring of fewer officers, and a substantial amount of attrition in the department, OPD has nearly two hundred fewer officers today than it had just two summers ago. And De La Fuente played a major role in how that came to be. For the record, through July 22, the number of major crimes in Oakland had jumped 24 percent compared to the same time period in 2010 when the city had about 30 percent more cops than it does now.
Consequently, don’t expect De La Fuente to talk much about the size of the police force during his upcoming campaign against Kaplan. Instead, he made it clear last week that he intends to focus on his proposals for more gang injunctions and a youth curfew in the city — even though the existing two gang injunctions in North Oakland and Fruitvale have failed to reduce crime in the city, and have proven to be very expensive. In addition, there’s no credible evidence that youth curfews reduce violent crime. Moreover, according to OPD statistics, youth crime has declined in Oakland during the past decade. Adults are largely responsible for Oakland’s crime wave — not teens, according to OPD.
Finally, it’s worth noting that De La Fuente has repeatedly declined over the years to sit on the council’s Public Safety Committee — a key panel that examines crime problems in the city and helps set policy. In fact, he hasn’t served on the committee for at least ten years, according to online city records that date back to 2002. By contrast, Kaplan has served on the Public Safety Committee continuously since early 2011.
To be sure, Kaplan is not going to paint herself as a law-and-order candidate this fall. She’s a progressive. But when it comes to advocating for more police officers and taking an active role in dealing with the city’s crime problems, her record is much tougher on crime than De La Fuente’s.