In tense press conference, resigning Batts calls bureaucracy “an obstacle to do my job”
on October 11, 2011
At a tense press conference at City Hall shortly after delivering his letter of resignation to the City Council, Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts criticized a bureaucracy that he said failed to “let the Chief be the Chief.”
“No chief wants to be in a position where he or she is being held accountable but doesn’t have the power to make a dramatic impact,” he said.
Batts said one reason he is stepping down is the “layers of bureaucracy” he must deal with on a daily basis. “This is not focused on one individual,” he said. “It’s just–a lot of bureaucracy, in the city of Oakland as a whole.”
Reacting speedily to crime emergencies has been harder than it should be, Batts said. “If I had a crime-related problem, it was really hard to move resources,” he said. “I couldn’t move officers very quickly. There could be a shooting taking place, but there’s an array of mandates I have to take care of before addressing that issue.”
Batts was accompanied at the press conference, which lasted less than 20 minutes, by Mayor Jean Quan, one of the city officials with whom Batts has reportedly sparred in private during his two years as Oakland’s chief. Quan stood to one side of Batts, her face impassive, and when he had finished speaking she took the podium without shaking his hand or making much eye contact. “I gave him the chance to leave,” she said. “I didn’t ask him to leave, but this is a good time.”
City Administrator Deanna Santana, who also attended the press conference, told reporters that Batts will work his last day in early to mid November. They declined to answer questions about Batts’ immediate successor, saying further announcements would be forthcoming.
Batts, who said police mentors and his family members were helping him “take the steps toward retirement,” said he will join a research team and teach at Harvard University.
Batts’ surprise resignation news hits Oakland as anti-Wall Street protesters are camping in Frank Ogawa Plaza, the number of homicides continues to climb, and the City Council considers a collection of controversial crime initiatives, such as a citywide youth curfew. His departure will conclude a promising but beleaguered tenure at the helm of Oakland Police during a drawn-out difficult period for the city and the department, when a budget crisis within the city led to a tense face-off between then-City Councilmember Quan, Batts and the Oakland Police.
Batts grew up in South Central Los Angeles, where, he has often said, gangs, prostitution and drugs affected his life. But he made his mark in Long Beach, where a steady rise up the chain in the city’s police department eventually led him to become Chief of Police in 2002, after a quarter-century on the job. He was introduced to Oakland in 2009. Ron Dellums was the city’s mayor then, and as he was facing criticism from all sides for his failure to reduce crime, Dellums introduced Batts as the city’s newest police chief.
Batts had initially turned down the job. A headhunter called him in Long Beach in March 2009 to ask if he’d be interested, but he declined. Then, on March 21 of that year, four OPD officers were shot and killed, in the largest single-day loss of life in any American police department since September 11, 2001.
Batts attended the Oakland officers’ funeral at Oracle Arena, and shortly thereafter, he said, he text-messaged the headhunter to tell him he was interested. According to published accounts of Batts’ decision to come to Oakland, he said he was moved to take the city’s top police job because he thought he could make a difference after the devastation experienced by the department.
At Batts’ swearing in, Dellums told a packed audience that since he had taken over as Long Beach’s chief in 2002, crime in the city had reached its lowest levels since 1975. Long Beach Police’s officer-involved shootings also fell 70% during that period.
Batts brought celebrity to the office, and at the time, his high-profile move was seen by many as a step in the right direction, both for crime-combating efforts in Oakland, and for then-Mayor Ron Dellums, whose political legacy was teetering in the last year of his tenure.
“Dellums Gets His Mojo Back,” read a headline from the East Bay Express, which had been critical of the mayor until then.
Batts promised new, creative approaches to fighting crime in Oakland. Early on, he proposed a citywide curfew for teenagers—a measure, he said, which had helped reduce crime in Long Beach.
But apart from Oakland’s unusually high crime rate, he faced another problem he was less prepared to deal with: the political turmoil surrounding Oakland’s multi-million dollar budget deficit.
The years following Batts’ swearing-in proved trying for both the OPD and its new chief. Early on New Years day 2009, BART police fatally shot an unarmed passenger on the platform of the Fruitvale BART Station. Though the victim, Oscar Grant, was from Hayward, had come from San Francisco and was shot by BART Police, downtown Oakland endured riots and complaints about police behavior were rehashed again.
Oakland’s homicide rate, like that of many cities around the country, had been dropping every year since 2006, from an all time high of 148. During Batts’ tenure it continued to fall, to 108 in 2009.
In 2010, then-City Councilmember Jean Quan proposed reducing the city’s deficit by making OPD officers pay into their own pensions, as all other city employees did. The proposal was met with resistance from the Oakland Police Officers Association, the union that represents OPD officers — but Quan and other council members moved forward. When an agreement could not be reached, 80 officers were laid off.
The pension struggle initiated a spat between Quan and Batts that by all accounts only grew worse when Quan was elected mayor in November 2010.
Then, in January 2011, it was revealed— to the surprise of city officials— that Batts was being vetted for the top job in the San Jose Police Department. Batts confirmed that he was considering the job. San Jose ultimately chose to go with interim Chief Chris Moore, but the incident left many Oakland residents feeling disappointed and unsettled.
Quan said she was “very relieved” when Batts announced he would stay in Oakland, but Batts said his situation in the city was still uncertain. “I have not made a final decision as to my future with this agency,” he said in a press release after it became clear that he was not taking the San Jose job. “It still needs to be determined if I am a fit for the City of Oakland’s vision of the future.”
Batts and Quan failed to see eye to eye through the rest of Batts’ tenure.
Working closely with City Attorney John Russo and his staff, the OPD proceeded with a controversial gang injunction policy in North Oakland. Gang members were identified and, with the approval of a judge, specific members were put under curfew and forbidden from associating with each other.
Community reaction to the injunctions was mixed. While many living in high-crime neighborhoods supported the new policy, others said it infringed on the civil rights of the identified gang members.
But Batts said he wanted to extend the injunctions further into Fruitvale and other areas. At a city council meeting this May, he reaffirmed his support for the injunctions, but said the effectiveness of the policy should be evaluated by an independent observer, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Quan was reluctant to offer her full support for the gang injunctions.
In May of this year, Russo resigned, also citing a lack of cooperation from the Mayor’s office.
Reaction from city and police officials on Tuesday included sharp criticism of Mayor Quan.
Ignacio De La Fuente, who proposed several failed measures to the City Council earlier this week, including an anti-loitering ordinance, which Batts supported, said he was “not surprised” to learn Batts had resigned and that the blame “absolutely” belonged with Quan. “I think this chief was clear, when he came to Oakland, that he needed the tools to do the job,” De La Fuente said. “Really a sad day for Oakland.”
City Council’s President Larry Reid said he was surprised about Batts’ resignation but he understood the police chief’s decision. “When you can’t do the job people want you to do, you become frustated,” he said.
Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, said he was surprised to learn of Batts’ resignation when the Chief called him with the news at 1 p.m. Tuesday. “It’s a shocker today that he kind of pulled the pin like this,” he said.
Arotzarena said he would like to see the new chief promoted from within the ranks, and that city leaders need to make public safety their top priority. “They should find the right fit of someone who’s willing to do that and take on that,” he said. “At the same time you need someone who’s going to be loyal to the citizens of Oakland.”
But Isaac Ontiveros, Communications Director at the Critical Resistance-affiliated group Stop The Injunctions, said he was not dismayed. “I can’t say I’m sad to see him go,” he said.
Ontiveros said Batts’ resignation, paired with Russo’s departure in May, should be taken as an opportunity by city officials to re-evaluate the gang injunctions and other crime-fighting policies.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Batts praised the Oakland Police for “doing an excellent job with little resources.”
An Oakland Police employee, said that when news was delivered to her office Tuesday morning, her colleagues were quiet and sober. “It was just a sense of emotion,” said the employee, who asked not to be identified. “I think officers were sorry for him. He’s in between a rock and a hard place. They know that his hands were tied.”
Different ideas have circulated as to who will replace Batts as Police Chief in November.
De La Fuente said Howard Jordan, the current Assistant Police Chief, would likely be named interim for the second time while the city looked for a replacement. Jordan served as interim Police Chief when Wayne Tucker resigned in 2009.
John Bower, 43, an Oakland resident, was unaware of the news when he came to police headquarters to obtain records, but upon hearing the news he said he was “really disappointed he’s leaving.”
“I wish we could keep a chief of police for more than a year,” he said. “Oakland can’t retain them.”
“It’s a very sad day for the city of Oakland,” said Frank Castro, chair of the Greater Rockridge Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council. He said the resignation was astonishing, but not unexpected.
“You had a person who had the talent to do wonderful things, but he never had the resources that he really needed in order to do his job properly,” he said. “He did the best with what he had, but he kept running up against road block after road block.”
Castro said Batts wasn’t given the resources he needed by the city, yet he had full accountability for the problems that ensued because of a lack of police officers on the street. “It caused a great police chief to walk away,” he said.
Castro, who is also on the executive board of grass-roots group Make Oakland Better Now, said he first met Batts four or five months after he took office, when he spoke at an NCPC meeting.
“He was very engaging,” he said. “I really got the sense that he believed he was going to come in and make a difference.” Batts emphasized community policing and believed that we couldn’t afford to look at the city as individual neighborhoods but instead should look at the city as a whole, because crime affects everyone, Castro said.
Castro said Batts’ mantra was “gangs, guns and drugs.” If you hit those three items, you would see a decrease in crime and an increase in public safety, said Castro, who worked with Batts to develop a comprehensive safety plan to put more police officers on the streets. He said the impact of Batts’ resignation on the city depends on Mayor Quan, who will be leading the search for a new police chief.
“I don’t know how she can possibly come up with someone as engaging and as interested in the city as Chief Batts,” he said.
Oakland North reporters Tasion Kwamilele, Brittany Schell, and Ryan Phillips contributed to this story.
This story has been amended from the original. The original misspelled Isaac Ontiveros’ name and incorrectly called him an “organizer” with Stop the Injunctions. The original also incorrectly said that Stop the Injunctions is affiliated with Critical Mass. Oakland North regrets the error.
Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: firstname.lastname@example.org.