The question of whether to contract out police services has been an issue that has surfaced in Kensington over the years, particularly after Proposition 13 passed in 1978, disproportionately limiting the amount of funding for police services. We hope to finally lay this question to rest, by summarizing the key findings of many reports and investigations.
Longstanding History and Evidence
As detailed (History & Timeline), Kensington residents have time and again supported maintaining an independent police department, taxing themselves via Measures D(1980), A(1984), U(1993), & D(1995) to make up for the Prop 13 shortfall.
While we supplement the financing of the department through these special taxes, (see District Finances) it has been determined through much analysis that it is still more cost-effective to manage and fund our own district than to contract out, notwithstanding the benefits of local oversight and control.
This is the 4th time in Kensington's history that the issue of how to support or enhance our police department has become a concern to our residents that deep study has been undertaken by the community:
- 1993: Board hired a consultant to explore how to enhance the department based on budget constraints. It’s major recommendation was to exchange the lieutenant position for a civilian police specialist to avoid a top heavy structure. (Outlook Apr. 1993).
- 2009: The Brown Taylor Report recommended against contracting out because it did not make fiscal or operational sense.
- 2016: Ad hoc Committee of volunteer residents thoroughly researched police department operations and management in 2016.
- 2018: Matrix Consulting spent over a year reaching the same conclusions in the Brown Taylor report and what the highly qualified Ad Hoc Committee already came to, despite inaccuracies (under-representing police workload and inaccurate financials) attempting to make contracting out more palatable than it is.
Summary Of Implications On Costs & Control For An Independent vs. Contracted Out Police Department
Implications on Control/Operations
Independent Police Dept
- Hire/fire our own Chief of Police, accountable to our own town
- Use our own Community Policing Mission Statement and our own Police Policy manual written by a Chief of Police working for our residents
- Officers dedicated only to town, and operate based on our local community needs
- Officers physically stationed in Kensington 100%
- At last public review (2011), average Priority 1 call response time: 2mins 45sec
- Any Kensington crime is our police’s first concern
- Kensington officers give everyone in town personal service and often go beyond the expectations of duty. (See some of the old Police Reports)
- The Chief of Police would be managed by & accountable to El Cerrito’s city management.
- Police are subject to El Cerrito’s policies for handling people, which are not centered on community policing
- El Cerrito officers are ultimately loyal to El Cerrito as their primary employer.
- Officer deployment out of our control; officers can be pulled from town based on El Cerrito’s needs (something no contract can actually enforce, and as exemplified in San Joaquin County)
- Police will likely be operating mostly in El Cerrito. It will take officers at least 5 minutes to drive from El Cerrito to Kensington once they are dispatched.
- Less personal attention from police; Kensington’s “minor” crimes take a backseat to more pressing issues in El Cerrito. Be prepared to submit your reports online and hope for a response.
Implications on Costs
Independent Police Dept
- Salaries and personnel costs determined by the KPPCSD Board of Directors negotiating with a small union (~6 to 9 people)
- Operating cost decisions continue to be managed by the District and Kensington Chief of Police, dependent and accountable to the will of the residents.
- Kensington has to accept the salaries and personnel costs of El Cerrito which are set by El Cerrito’s own negotiations with its larger union. (~30 to 40 people) and which are already over 15% higher than those of Kensington.
- Operating costs likely to rise; Fire department operational costs have risen 2x faster than the police department, since fire services were contracted out from 1995 - 2014
- Kensington is subject to paying whatever overhead fee is set by El Cerrito
- Kensington residents would immediately become subject to paying off Kensington’s CalPERS unfunded liability over a 15 year period. In addition to this, there is a termination penalty that can reach between 14 to 26 million dollars.
- In addition, Kensington would also become responsible for paying part of El Cerrito’s CalPERS, as set by El Cerrito’s financial decisions.
Paying More For Less Service
A service contract would leave Kensington with no negotiating power over costs or services once the contract is signed. Managing/enforcing a contract is costly and difficult, and has many limitations because, by law, the Chief of Police is the primary authority on how police services are delivered.
In the end, contracting out could result in us PAYING MORE FOR LESS SERVICE.
And it is a ONE WAY decision, as El Cerrito could easily add a termination penalty (as they did in our contract for Fire Services), where we could no longer negotiate a new contract, or reverse the decision without extremely costly consequences.
Often talked about as a happy median between independence and full contracting out, hybrid or “partial” contracting out for service can actually be just as bad for the department. The Board touts two options in particular that could just as easily cripple the department:
- Night Shift - Having a town that is patrolled by two different departments is a recipe for disaster. El Cerrito Police Department’s major concern at night is the flatland. No contract can keep an officer driving around the hills as a deterrent to crime if they are needed elsewhere. When a crime does happen in Kensington at night, who is responsible for solving it? Kensington Police? El Cerrito Police? El Cerrito is not going to be motivated to solve our night patrol crimes as they usually have more pressing matters.
- Evidence Rooms - Contracting out evidence handling makes it a lot harder for our officers to solve and prosecute crimes in our town. First, it would mean our officers have to drive down to El Cerrito whenever they need to review evidence, leaving less time to patrol our town. Second, because the evidence has to be handled by more people (Kensington and all of El Cerrito’s evidence specialists), it becomes harder to ensure that the evidence has not been tampered with or “spoiled” (learn more about chain of custody, here). Contracting out the evidence room would just make criminals' lives easier.
But what about all the “specialist” services (such as: K9 units, bomb squad, special crime work, Internal Affairs specialists, SWAT) a small department like ours might need?
Well, the fact is that we already have access to those things through the aid agreements that the officers can call on. In the case of Internal Affairs, the KPD already has access to specialized Internal Affairs police consultants they can use in cases that involve a conflict of interest.
Even “big” agencies like El Cerrito Police Department rely on other police departments for some specialized services (see: survey of outsourced specialized services in ECPD).
Hybrid contracts are just a gateway to a full contracting out of the Kensington Police Department. Let us not be baited into believing this is a better solution.
The BEST solution is still to have an INDEPENDENT DEPARTMENT, that has the resources and a BOARD that supports their autonomous functioning.
In short, our town and community of Kensington would cease to exist.
IF we were to be ANNEXED
Annexation or merger is the process by which Kensington becomes part of El Cerrito. Our Special Districts would be dissolved, with the money, assets (including the park), and control of town being transferred to El Cerrito.
1) LAFCO has previously considered recommending annexation.
In 2009, the Contra Costa County LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission, a regional service planning agency) explored recommending annexation of Kensington to El Cerrito. The LAFCO Report of 2009 states that in order for El Cerrito to annex Kensington they have to annex Kensington’s police services.
2) El Cerrito has repeatedly considered annexation of Kensington.
Not only have former El Cerrito mayors mentioned annexation, Kensington remains a discussion item in the city’s general plan. Given El Cerrito’s current fiscal problems (as of their last audit, they had ZERO dollars in their general reserve funds), their situation may drive them to consider annexation as a solution for the city’s budgetary challenges in spite of the myriad problems that might arise.
If we outsource our police to El Cerrito, rejecting annexation would be nearly impossible under LAFCO rules. We would have no actual power to challenge this if El Cerrito were to control all of our community’s public safety services and the cost of those services.
3) We would lose our town. Kensington would cease to exist.
Kensington governance exists as a Special District. We own our District - our police services, our community services and our park. We vote to elect local officials to represent our interests and have the means to hold these officials accountable. We are self-governing citizens.
This local control is what has preserved Kensington as a community for over 70 years with a high quality of life and high desirability.
Our Police District is our only remaining institution of local governance, since our Fire District's vital services have been outsourced. If we lose local control of our Police District, we have little reason to exist as an entity in our own right and sets into motion an inexorable process of annexation by the entity that would control our vital services, in this case El Cerrito.
We would cease to own our town. We would cease to own our police services. We would cease to own our community services. We would cease to own our park. We would cease to have local governance. El Cerrito would own these when they annex us.
We would then become about one-fifth of El Cerrito and be subject to a city council we have limited power to elect, with limited say in governance matters and taxation. We would also inherit part of their FAILING financial status.
There would be little recourse for us if they decided to sell our park or develop our park the way the BART parking lot is being developed into condos.
In 1987 in the Examiner & Chronicle, in an article entitled, Kensington: An Island of Rationality, Bradley Inman said:
“In the end Kensington’s only allegiance is to itself. It has done a good job of controlling its own destiny.”
We have had an incredibly viable community and town structure for over seventy years. Let’s keep control of our destiny.