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Calif. PD almost fully staffed 10 months after it announced $75K hiring bonuses

The Alameda Police Department is nearing the maximum number of officers it can hire; the PD is only short one officer per squad and is hiring in the “top 5%" of qualified applicants

Alameda went far beyond what other cities were willing to pay to recruit officers. Did it pay off?

“Community policing is about building relationships,” Chief Joshi said in an April interview. “It’s hard to do that when you’re covering three or four neighborhoods because of a staffing shortage.”

Alameda Police Department via Facebook

By Will McCarthy
Bay Area News Group

ALAMEDA, Calif. — During the pandemic, California lost thousands of police officers, falling between 2020 and 2022 to the lowest number of patrol officers per capita since at least 1991, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Alameda was no exception. But in its rebuilding effort, its police department was willing to go further with financial incentives than any other city in the country, offering $75,000 in signing bonuses to new officers last year. Ten months later, the recruitment plan has worked, but it has yet to be reflected in the city’s crime statistics.

Last year, 30% of positions in the Alameda Police Department were open. Since the signing bonus was implemented, the department has received over 400 applications, and 20 officers have been hired, while four retired or resigned, leading to a net gain of 16 officers and nearing the maximum of 88.

Alameda Chief of Police Nishant Joshi said he expects the department to have completely filled its vacancies by June. The $75,000 bonuses are funded by unspent police salaries.

Joshi said Alameda’s generous bonuses have allowed him to choose from the top 5% of candidates. In his initial pitch to the city for the bonuses, he said the money would allow him to attract top candidates and institute a neighborhood policing model.

“Community policing is about building relationships,” Joshi said in an April interview. “It’s hard to do that when you’re covering three or four neighborhoods because of a staffing shortage.”

If there have been corresponding improvements in policing, they have yet to be reflected in the city’s crime numbers. Between 2022 and 2023, robberies and burglaries in Alameda increased by 18.4% and 14.7%, respectively. Petty theft, embezzlement and fraud, and vandalism all increased, whereas assault, drug offenses and DUI’s fell. Arrests in Alameda also fell 16% between 2022 and 2023.

Chief Joshi said he was confident the increased staffing would help improve response times and visibility of police officers and that he didn’t feel the need to further justify the bonuses.

“I don’t feel a different pressure, I don’t feel a new pressure, I’ve always felt the pressure of addressing crime,” Joshi said. “I think the scoreboard is going to show the results.”

Other cities in the Bay Area have offered hiring bonuses to prospective officers, although those incentives pale in comparison to the money available in Alameda. Hayward and El Cerrito have both offered $10,000 bonuses, and the City of Berkeley recently asked for $25,000 to recruit officers.

In the South Bay, San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan said increasing police staffing was a “top priority.” In 2023, the city budgeted $1.3 million for hiring bonuses as well as officer recruitment and retention strategies but still spent nearly $60 million in police overtime. San Mateo, meanwhile, offers a $30,000 bonus for lateral hires.

Although the Alameda department is almost fully staffed, with only one vacancy per squad, Joshi said he would still prioritize patrols over community policing roles and that they would need at least a year to judge results.

“Do I think this is going to have an impact? I know that it will,” Joshi said. “I’m not holding the council hostage.”

Mayor Ezzy Ashcraft said that she, for one, was pleased with the results of the hiring bonuses so far and that she understood it would take a while for increased police presence to impact the month-to-month crime data.

“When I see and meet these police officers we’ve been able to hire, it’s really impressive,” Ashcraft said. “I’ve always said a police department should look like the community it serves, and they do.”

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