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Police layoffs hit Oakland, one of the nation's most crime-ridden cities

Police layoffs leave the city of Oakland with almost 10 percent fewer cops despite last minute negotiations.

By Terry CollinsAP / July 17, 2010

Oakland police officers prepare to charge a crowd of demonstrators in downtown Oakland on July 8, 2010. A former transit police officer that fatally shot an unarmed man at an Oakland train station was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, capping a racially charged case that raised fears in the Bay Area of possible violence after the verdict.

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Oakland, Calif.

Despite last-minute negotiations Tuesday, one of the nation's most crime-ridden cities had to lay off almost 10 percent of its police force.

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Oakland city leaders and its police union failed to agree before a 5 p.m. deadline, leaving 80 officers without their badges. The dismissals leave the embattled department with 696 officers in a city of more than 400,000 residents.

The sticking point was over job security. The Oakland Police Officers Association said it would give concessions and contribute 9 percent of their salaries to their pensions only if the city guaranteed a three-year moratorium on layoffs.

The city, however, said it could only offer a one-year freeze.

"I think we're all disappointed that we couldn't come up with an agreement at this time. But we tried really hard," City Council president Jane Brunner said Tuesday, adding that talks could resume at a future date.

The layoffs are yet another blow for the police force still reeling from four officers being gunned down by a parolee last year.

"Losing four officers last year was a shock to us all, we haven't really recovered from that yet," Police union president Sgt. Dom Arotzarena said. "And now we're losing another 80 officers this year, not by the hand of a gun, but by the hand of a pen."

Last month, the council voted to cut nearly 10 percent of the city's 776 officers to help close a deficit of more than $31 million in the city's 2011 budget.

Police Chief Anthony Batts said many of the officers laid off were on the front lines last week, trying to control protesters after former Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting of an unarmed black man in 2009.

Earlier Tuesday, Batts was hesitant to say if the city and police union could strike a deal.

"Well, I don't want to scare anyone. We will continue to do a great job," Batts told KTVU-TV. "However, Oakland has a tremendous amount of demand here ... Oakland, compared to other cities of its size, has a lot more demand."

Gordon Dorham, one of the 80 officers laid off Tuesday, was more blunt. The officer of 2 1/2 years said one word describes how some Oakland residents now feel: "Fear."

"The citizens are scared," Dorham told KRON-TV. "They're scared and they know that the wolves are coming out."

On Monday, police released a list of crimes — including grand theft, burglary, vehicle collision, identity theft and vandalism — that officers would not respond to in person if there were layoffs.

Victims would have to report those and other crimes online.

Officers also would not be able to register sex offenders in person.

City leaders and police are hoping voters in November will approve new tax measures and amend an existing 2004 tax ordinance.

If the measures fail, police could lose another 122 officers in January.

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