ALAMEDA - Police departments across the country are stretched thin and struggling to attract recruits. Now, one Bay Area city has just signed off on what appears to be the biggest hiring bonus in the country - $75,000 for new officers.
The Alameda Police Department says staffing is down nearly 30%. It currently has 24 vacant police officer positions.
"We're not buying a lot of dresses right now," says Lisa Cross as she's talking to one of her customers at Lauren's Closet. Lisa is a longtime Alameda resident and business owner - running her shop on the island for more than 30 years. She says she's concerned about the lack of police staffing.
"I have a children's store and when stuff happens outside, all of my employees have keys on them and we'll lock the door because we know the response time is longer than usual if they even come at all," says Cross.
She supports the new hiring bonuses, especially after her neighbor's car was broken into, the catalytic converter stolen. The whole thing happened yesterday morning - caught on cell phone video by another neighbor.
"Whatever it takes to bring them in. I think we need a police force because if something happens, who are you going to call? I'm going to call the police," says Cross.
The City of Alameda isn't the only department in the Bay Area offering a hefty sign on bonus to attract more officers... but it is by far, the highest - offering more than double that of other agencies.
These are current hiring bonuses offered for other law enforcement agencies in the Bay Area:
San Francisco PD - $5,000
San Jose PD - $10,000
Hayward PD - $10,000
BART PD - $15,000
Alameda County Sheriff - $15,000
San Mateo PD - $30,000
"We need to fill those vacancies and how do you compete with all these other departments in the area?" says Alameda Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft.
The mayor says for the past few years the city has offered a $30,000 sign on bonus for lateral transfers (officers who come from other departments), but only one officer took advantage of the offer.
She says that's why the police chief suggested more than doubling the bonus. In a statement Alameda Police Chief Nishant Joshi said "A hiring incentive of $75,000 for new police officers is more than any other City in the Bay Area.... By aiming high, I can select the best officers for Alameda and continue to diversify our police department."
On March 21, the city council approved the bonuses in a unanimous vote.
"I really want what's best for our city and maybe other cities will get inspired and do the same," says Mayor Ashcraft.
Some residents question whether it's the best use of city resources and say that money could instead go toward crime prevention programs.
"That is money that could be used for schools, for social justice programs, for mental health," says longtime Alameda resident Sarah Fairchild.
"At first glance it's like, wow. That's a lot of money," says Lilia Williams, who lives and works on the island.
"Yes, you can put money somewhere else, but when something happens, you dial 911. If there's no one to respond, who else are you calling that's going to give you immediate attention?" says Cross.
The mayor says the money for the bonuses is coming from payroll savings from the officer shortage. The total cost of the hiring bonuses could be $1.8 million. The current starting salary for an Alameda police officer is $110,344.00 per year.
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