OPD Chief Batts ready to try curfew and new technology, but is Oakland?

Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts discusses his public safety strategy with Dimond district residents at Bret Harte Middle School

Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts discusses his public safety strategy with Dimond district residents at Bret Harte Middle School

Oakland’s new police chief Anthony Batts told a community meeting on Thursday that he wants to try curfews and other methods from his tenure in Long Beach, but doesn’t know if Oakland’s progressive political community will accept them.

In addressing constituents in City Councilwoman Jean Quan’s district, Batts said he plans to use technology, innovative methods and a no-tolerance approach to reduce crime in the city despite a lack of resources. He also urged participation from the community as a vital element in the crime reduction process, and promised an increased focus on community policing.

“Oakland needs to get to the point where it says, ‘Enough is enough,’” Batts said, adding that Oakland is on the “precipice of change” and could experience a revitalization like New York City in the 1990s.

Refusing to use the microphone during his remarks at Bret Harte Elementary School on Coolidge Avenue, Batts told the packed auditorium that the number of homicides in Oakland–109 last year, down from 124 in 2008–was “unacceptable in a contemporary city” of Oakland’s size. Batts, who was Long Beach’s police chief for seven years, said his former city and Oakland could be considered twins in almost all respects–except for the cities’ crime rates and their “aesthetic look.” Oakland and Long Beach share similar population density and poverty levels. The murder rate in Long Beach was between 65 and 70 per year when Batts took over as a police chief in 2002, and only 40 homicides were recorded in Long Beach in 2008. Overall, the crime rate in Oakland is around three times higher than in Long Beach.

The meeting with Quan and her central Oakland constituents came a day after the public release of a damning report on the department’s performance during a shootout that led to the deaths of four Oakland police officers in March 2009. It was part of a series of public talks initiated by Batts since taking on the job as Oakland’s top cop.

Since arriving in Oakland late last year, Batts said he has perceived among its residents a “greater sense of tolerance” toward violent crime than in cities like Long Beach. The new chief said the city should do “everything we can possibly do” to cut down the murder rate, which may include measures unpopular with progressive constituents.

One such measure, Batts said, would be a citywide curfew, a measure the police chief said was implemented with great success in Long Beach. Batts said he proposed instituting a similar measure here—where people under a certain age would not be allowed outside after a certain time at night, unless they were en route to a specific destination. But the proposal did not move forward, and Batts said he was told the city was “too progressive for that.”

“I said, ‘Okay, I understand that. But which is more important, saving lives or being progressive?’”

These words received a great—perhaps even surprising—amount of applause from the audience.

After the meeting, Councilmember Quan told Oakland North she thought a citywide curfew would be a hard sell to constituents and probably ineffective, given the lack of police manpower to enforce it. She also said it was also potentially unfair, since it would target all people under a certain age regardless of their connection to crime.

Quan said she supported a controversial anti-loitering law in the past, which was enacted for a year but not enforced by police because former District Attorney Tom Orloff refused to prosecute those cases. She added she would support a new anti-loitering law, provided it targeted specifically troubled neighborhoods or areas—around liquor stores, for example—and enacted in such a way as to avoid problems with the DA. As examples of targeted programs, Quan cited Oakland’s truancy law, where parents are fined if their children are repeated truants, and the city’s sexual exploitation law, which offers rehabilitation rather than prison time for teenage prostitutes.

“I don’t want something that is too broad,” Quan said. “The most important thing is to save [Oakland teenagers'] lives.”

During the meeting, Batts promised a top-to-bottom re-evaluation of the police department in order to better utilize the city’s limited resources. In December, the department began a citywide survey to determine what Oakland residents view as police priorities. The survey was suspended during the holidays, but should be completed in the next few weeks.

Residents of District 4 listen to Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts as he outlines his public safety strategy for 2010

Residents of District 4 listen to Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts as he outlines his public safety strategy for 2010

Batts also said he is requiring his top officers to submit resumes and essays justifying “why they should keep their jobs.” He indicated that he plans to institute a department-wide training program on community policing and intends to establish better connections between departments.

Increased use of technology forms another part of the OPD’s new approach under Batts. Starting in February, OPD’s fleet will be monitored by global positioning systems (GPS), an initiative that was started last year before Batts became chief. The department is also looking at programs to identify and monitor needs in each police beat. Batts said OPD must embrace new technology and “basic management tools” to deal with crime that, by all accounts, requires more resources than the 803 officers currently on staff can provide through existing methods. Batts said he thought Oakland could use “double that amount of police officers,” but that the city’s money troubles means the police department must learn to work with its current resources.

“My job and my function is not to whine about it,” Batts said. “I have what I have at this point in time and I have and make that as efficient as we possibly can.”

After the meeting, Batts told Oakland North that many of these broader structural changes will have to wait until his department can demonstrate success during an initial period of crime suppression.

“I think you can’t get prevention or intervention until you calm some of the drama and some of the violence that is going on,” Batts said.

Even though Batts wants more officers for Oakland, there’s a chance he’ll have to make do with even fewer. The city’s budget problems for 2010 may undermine the department’s ability to perform adequately, particularly if the city is unable to maintain the current number of on-duty officers. Three weeks ago, City Council President Jane Brunner predicted the OPD could lose more than 100 officers unless the city’s voters pass an emergency tax measure.

Sworn police officers are not the only ones facing possible reductions. Civilian positions in the police department, such as the neighborhood service coordinators, may also be terminated due to budget problems. According to OPD’s principal financial analyst Gilbert Garcia, OPD’s funding structure under Measure Y means that civilian positions will be the first to go. Garcia said there’s no indication of which civilian jobs would be cut.

“Every civilian job [connected to the OPD] is at risk,” Garcia said. “Including mine.”

Additional reporting by Thomas Gorman

7 Comments

  1. G

    Quite frankly, if you’re not a cop with a gun or a detective with a gun, you should be fired from OPD to make way for more cops and detectives.

    Including Garcia.

    The “progressive” culture that people are so proud of is a joke all around the world. This country has the highest murder rate among the developed world and people think they are the most civilized, advanced country because of democracy???

    You’re delusional, Americans.

    People all around the world, especially Asia, mock this country. You can’t walk down the street without encountering armed robbery, drugs, kids loitering, failed students, unskilled labor, you name it.

    We are going down in flames and we deserve it.

  2. Charles Pine

    “Councilmember Quan … thought a citywide curfew would be ineffective, given the lack of police manpower to enforce it.”

    Gee, Quan insisted in 2004 that Measure Y would guarantee us 802 police. We have had less police since then (and we have fewer today, contrary to the article). Now she uses her failure to keep her promise as a reason to favor social programs over common sense enforcement.

  3. drew

    Oakland will be fine with reduce OPD. The Police budget and police union are what is crippling our town’s finances. We can cut, cut cut, but with Police and fire taking up so much of our general fund, cuts mean very little.

    Let’s close fire stations first, then lay-off police officers to let them feel the pain along with the rest of us. Then may the union will come to the table and agree to reduce their ridiculously high salaries. Yes, cops jobs are dangerous but what would you rather do: work in a factory where 8 hours takes forever, or work as a cop on the street where 10-12 hours goes by quickly? You may die quickly as a cop, but I’d rather do down like that rather than die slowly working for a corporation, bank, etc.

    Keep the NSCs, they are a valuable link in community policing. We don’t need more cops/enforcement, we need more community policing.

  4. Jinna

    The more I hear about Jean Quan, the less I like. But I admit, I am kind of uninformed. Can anyone tell me if she IS NOT a soft-on-crime leftist? For real, what the hell, though? Does she think it’s OK if kids are roaming around at 11 PM? Oakland has a PROBLEM with youth crime and violence — and part of that PROBLEM is because kids are out at all hours of night, if not becoming perpetrators, then becoming victims. Does Jean Quan have children? Did/does/will she she let them roam around the City at all hours of night? I am TIRED of ideological people who allow things to take place in the area of public policy that they wouldn’t allow for their own family. Maybe Jean Quan is like this, maybe she isn’t. Can someone inform me?

  5. Jim

    Blame, blme, blame others for the problem. Batts is saying the citizens tolorate the crime, the city won’t give more officers and the leaders within the department need to prove thwir worth. He claims he won’t whine but all he is doing is whining about not enough officers and resources. When he came to Oakland he knew the financial condition of the city. So he needs to either reduce crime as promised without delay or hit the road. His solution is to lay off workers and make employees look bad to cover the job that is not getting done. We need someone local that is familar with the area not an outsider that will make it look like our own fault. Time for a new leader now.

  6. Hi Anonymous Jim,
    I see you are trying to hold the Moral High Ground and not even letting someone with a proven track record of improved policing/community engagement even try.

    I can’t blame you… hardly anyone in America is held responsible these days, passing blame around. Daytime “talk” shows, bankers, CEOs and politicians and most Americans — all inclusive.

    Well, we are all in this together. I say give Chief Batts a good chance and support his initiatives… which worked in Long Beach. Jim, the problems the city faces are largely due to city employee pensions — this does not only include police and fire. It also includes retirees such as former city administrator Deborah Edgerly — but certainly not limited to senior employees like her, who take up to 90% salaries in retirement. Can you imagine that?

    Jinna, if you want the 411 on Jean Quan and City of Oakland, I highly suggest reading ABetterOakland.com. It’s run by a longtime local resident like us.

    Cheers,
    Ken

  7. George

    This is pretty typical. Most cops on the beat act like Jackbooted-thugs who aren’t much different than the street thugs they’re supposed to bring to justice.

    Martial or near martial law isn’t really going to change that. Without having spent much time in Oakland (cause I don’t wanna get shot), my impression of American urban settings is that more policy and social programs are necessary. Prisons and county jails are nothing more than institutions of higher learning for criminals. Stop prosecuting any crime that doesn’t have an actual victim (nudity, personal drug use, etc). Work with the very young children who are recruited into a life of crime BEFORE they commit one.

    Being hard on crime has very little effect unless you resort to a serious revocation of personal rights. Who wants to live there then? Nobody does, because police and the DA have unmitigated power that they begin to abuse. Remember the old lady who swallowed the spider to catch the fly?

Comments are closed.