The Multiple Madness of Police Layoffs

Sir Sly X-Fest 2014 (4)
Alex Matthews

How maddening are police layoffs?

Let's count the ways.

Take the city of Oakland, which announced yesterday it is letting go 80 police officers.

This decision, if it's not reversed, creates more unemployment in a time of high unemployment. It's a blow to crime-fighting in a city with persistent crime problems. But it's also an investment write-off; Oakland had invested millions in the training and experience of these officers. Now it no longer gets the benefit of that money it paid.

Here's another problem with these layoffs, a problem  that speaks to the current controversy over pensions. Oakland, like other California cities, is paying the equivalent of salaries to a virtual police force that it can't use -- its retirees. Since law enforcement officers can and do retire at 50, Oakland is in the following fix: it's laying off active police officers it needs even as it pays retired police officers, many of whom are in their 50s and early 60s and presumably young enough to be good police officers.

There's been a lot of talk about public employee pensions being financially unsustainable. But in a moment when government workers are being laid off, such pensions may also soon become politically unsustainable.

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