In 2022, seven of the ten highest paid public officials in the city of Berkeley were members of the police department, according to data from the California state controller’s Government Compensation in California database.
The data reveals that Berkeley’s ten highest paid public officials received over $300,000 in 2022. The highest paid were the police lieutenant and police sergeant, both receiving over $400,000.
“BPD exceeded its General Fund budget four out of the last five years. In FY 2020, BPD surpassed its $71.0 million allocation by $4.8 million,” reads an audit from March 2022.
The department’s salaries remain this high despite this audit, which recommended the department make significant changes to manage overtime salaries for officers in attempts to stay within its budget.
For instance, the highest paid public official, the police lieutenant, made $220,867 in overtime pay in fiscal year 2022, making up more than half of their total salary.
“Some overtime is required for various reasons. It is often more cost-effective than hiring staff and allows employees to meet fluctuating workloads,” reads the audit. “However, overreliance on overtime can increase fatigue and burnout, decrease productivity, and increase mistakes.”
The approved sworn staffing level for the city is 181 officers; however, BPD only has 149 officers currently staffed, according to BPD public information officer Jessica Perry.
Like many police departments across the country, BPD has had difficulty filling officer vacancies. With insufficient sworn staffing levels in recent years, the department has relied on overtime and backfilling to meet these levels, the audit notes.
The audit, which ranged from fiscal year 2019 to 2020, revealed that in 2020, 75% of BPD overtime pay — nearly $5 million — went to sworn officers.
“BPD does not adhere to their overtime controls. In FY 2020, 21 percent of sworn officers exceeded BPD’s overtime limit at least once. Without adequate enforcement and tools to manage overtime, BPD cannot mitigate risks of officer fatigue,” the audit reads.
Jenny Wong, the Berkeley city auditor, explained that hiring another officer is costly due to the fringe benefits associated with new hires; however, she noted that the amount of overtime BPD officers currently accumulate is unsustainable.
The audit made recommendations for BPD suggesting they publicly document minimum staffing levels and form procedures to assess if the level is effective in meeting BPD’s many functions.
“Our analysis said they should figure out how to assess those staffing needs periodically. It needs to be done in a way that is agile because needs can shift over time depending on the situation and the number of calls that need a police response,” Wong said.
City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said in an email that the sworn staffing levels are determined based on “what’s needed to keep the community safe.” Chakko noted that he could not speak on the city council’s views regarding staffing and budgeting.
According to data from Police Scorecard, a database that evaluates police department data from over 13,000 departments nationwide, BPD receives more police funding per capita than 92% of departments and has more officers per population than 34% of departments across the country.
Some, such as Berkeley Copwatch member Elana Auerbach, consider Berkeley to be “heavily policed” due to these statistics and have requested an updated analysis of the sworn staffing level.
“The community and Berkeley Copwatch for years, at least for the past three years, have been asking for an analysis asking based on what are these 181 officers (coming from),” Auerbach said.
Auerbach hopes to see this sworn staffing level reduced, as she feels the funds could be used more beneficially in crime prevention programs, considering that concerns about public safety are a high priority.
Others, such as city Councilmember Mark Humbert, feel differently.
“Reducing overtime by eliminating positions is not something I support because it would mean fewer officers on Berkeley streets at any given time,” Humbert said in an email. Reducing total officer-hours is something we must avoid unless and until we have achieved meaningful improvements in Berkeley’s public safety.”
The current BPD staffing levels are informed by a 2014 study by the Matrix Consulting Group, which considered town hall meetings, population, geography, officer workload, calls for service, response times and industry standards to determine the current staffing level, according to the audit.
However, the city council approved a $70,000 allocation to analyze staffing levels and alternative approaches, according to an email from director of police accountability Hansel Aguilar. Aguilar noted that the city selected a proposal by CityGate, a public service consulting agency, to conduct a study analyzing BPD’s sworn staffing levels to see if they adequately meet community needs.
“In conclusion, the City of Berkeley has taken substantial strides to holistically assess police staffing and explore innovative approaches to resource allocation. The efforts, including funding allocation, engagement of the City Auditor’s recommendations, and the selection of Citygate’s proposal, collectively demonstrate the city’s commitment to effective and community-responsive public safety strategies,” Aguilar said in the email.