Opinion: The police reform idea nobody talks about

OPINION

BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor

Last year, when the city of Palo Alto’s finances were in terrible shape because of the lockdown, some city employees stepped forward and offered to postpone the raises they were scheduled to get.

Among them were the police.

At a time when many cities have “defunded” or drastically reduced police budgets, let me suggest an alternative that probably won’t be popular. But let me make my case and then you can send me hate mail.

We’re always going to have police in a civilized society. That’s not going to change. But I want to have the best, most professional police officers possible.

When I think of all the things city governments waste money on — from roundabouts to needless consultants — there’s got to be money available to ensure we have a top-quality police department.

For a long time, I’ve used this space in the Post to decry high salaries in local government. And I’m convinced that many people in local government are overpaid and we need to reduce labor costs overall.

And yes, police and firefighters are typically at the top of the pay list in any city government.

Palo Alto’s 37 police officers made an average $148,721 in 2019 not including fringe benefits.

But people who put their lives on the line to protect the rest of us are worth extra compensation.

Good compensation has a way of paying for itself. If a city wants to avoid huge settlements over claims of police brutality, you need to spend money in these places:

1. More training. Not reading books and sitting in a lecture, but drills that re-create real-life situations. When do you draw a gun? How do you respond to a guy who is cussing you out? How do you use words to de-escalate a drunk guy who is going to beat up his wife? When do you drop the pursuit of a motorist who didn’t yield when you turned on your overhead lights?

2. A bad cop fund. Several years ago, a Palo Alto school board member opened up the district’s budget and showed me a line item that I had missed. It was money the board was setting aside each year to buy out bad teachers. State legislators have passed laws that give teachers and police incredible protections against firing. There are teachers in California who have been credibly accused of sex crimes against children who have kept their school district jobs. Similarly, when a cop is accused in a civil suit of brutality, we dig into the officer’s past and find instances that should have resulted in a firing.

But teachers and cops have special laws to protect them, along with aggressive unions with experienced lawyers. Instead of going through the administrative discipline process to fire an officer, which can take years and cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, why not offer bad cops buyouts and get rid of them?

3. Better pay. Unions don’t like merit pay, arguing that favoritism can taint decisions about who gets the money. But if you believe that, then you believe that the brass in every police department lacks integrity. I think police chiefs ought to be able to boost the pay of their best performers. I’m talking about cops who, based on their experience and training, de-escalate dangerous situations and solve problems. Officers who know when they’ve got to be tough and when they should show understanding. Officers who don’t treat people differently because of their race.

If we increase compensation for police, let’s set some goals to see if it’s worth it. For instance, if we find that sustained complaints against police don’t decrease with additional compensation, then we’re wasting our money.

But I hope we can make our local police departments — Palo Alto and other cities on the Peninsula — places where people want to work.

One of the incredible things about Palo Alto officers is that nearly all of them are college educated and many hold master’s degrees.

I know of at least one who is an attorney. These are people who could be doing other things with their lives than working in the police department.

If we want to improve our police departments, we’ve got to do more to attract and keep talent. I’m surprised that the idea of increasing police spending isn’t part of the police reform debate in America. Remember, you get what you pay for.

• • •

More woke words

I’m still getting email about that column on the changing definitions of words and phrases.

One reader sent me a link to a news story about how Brandeis University near Boston has come up with an “Oppressive Language List” of words and phrases people shouldn’t use.

For instance, they say people shouldn’t say “rule of thumb” because the term comes from an old British law allowing men to beat their wives with sticks no wider than their thumb.

“Trigger warning” is out because it may be alarming to certain people who are easily triggered. The term “content note” is preferred by Brandeis as a replacement.

Another banned word is “picnic” because the people at Brandeis associate it with the lynchings of black people, during which the white spectators supposedly watched while eating.

You can’t say “lame” or “walk-in” because “Ableist language can contribute to stigmas,” said a guide from Brandeis’s Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center.

The phrases “Long time, no see” and “no can do” are out because phrases in broken English “originate from stereotypes making fun of non-native English speakers.”

You also can’t say you were “gypped” because the term is “derived from “gypsy,” connected to the racial stereotype that gypsies are swindlers.”

Tuition and fees at Brandeis are $57,561. I can’t believe people are spending time at a university learning about words they can’t say. Given the tuition they’re paying, I think they’re getting gypped.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is price@padailypost.com.

6 Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this. Our priorities in this city are all loused up. The hoods from Oakland are robbing stores because they know they won’t get caught. The stores have a “do not confront” policy that allows the thieves to walk away with anything, and the police don’t get there in time.

  2. Regardless of pay, why would anyone want to be a cop in the current political climate in which they are readily “thrown under the bus” by craven politicians trying to placate a constituency which has been whipped into a lather by social media and the usual race-baiters trying to raise their own profiles? These days, they have the burden of proving their actions were justified by overwhelming proof, something often not possible in chaotic situations. They also face a public with insane expectations, such as suggesting that they should shoot the guns out of the hands of gunmen, like Roy Rogers used to do, or “de-escalate” someone attacking them with a knife.

  3. I like benchmarking their pay to *sustained* complaints. That seems like the performance measurements you’ll find in private industry. If you have a goal, pay your people to reach that goal.

  4. The reason the nation is talking about defunding is that the police aren’t doing a good job. Beating and killing people of color isn’t worthy of a pay raise. Instead of increasing their pay, they need to be criminally charged with assaults. Not let off the hook by our terrible DA rosen.

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