Anthony Batts, the exit interview: “In Oakland, the police department is seen as a necessary evil”
on November 7, 2011
Anthony Batts, who recently stepped down as the head of Oakland’s Police Department, has been a member of law enforcement for nearly thirty years. He served the Long Beach Police Department for 27 years, including seven years as the city’s chief of police, before moving to Oakland to head the police department here.
The aftermath of the 2009 shooting that left four Oakland police officers dead motivated Batts’ relocation to Oakland in the hope of making a difference. But in early October 2011, Batts announced his resignation, citing frustration with the city’s layers of bureaucracy.
Now, in his first lengthy conversation with a reporter since his resignation, Batts sits down with Oakland North’s Tasion Kwamilele—herself an Oakland native—to reflect on his success, his shortfalls and what lies ahead for the city’s police department.
Oakland North: What inspired you to become a member of law enforcement?
Anthony Batts: Unfortunately, I think it’s been death that has inspired me, in a lot of different ways. When I was eight, my mother told me not to walk through alleys, and being a hardheaded kid, on my way to school I walked through an alley and saw a young lady left for dead. I was traumatized, because I couldn’t even tell my mother about it—because I wasn’t supposed to be in the alley. I never really talked to people about it. I ended up just running out of the alley and running to my bus stop. At school, the teacher saw that I was staring off into space because I was thinking about this.
When I got home that night and I looked at the TV and all the death that was there, I remember talking to my mom, saying, “How can people allow people to do this? Does anyone care about people that have the color of my skin?” It seemed like every time it was on TV it was this black person dying, this black person dying, and I had just seen this black person in the alley, dead. Does anybody care about people that look like me? And she said, “There may not be much you can do about this now, but you can do different things about it in the future.” So that death kind of drove me. I started thinking about what I could do to make a difference in my life.
Fast forward a number of years later. I became a Long Beach police officer preparing to go to law school and at the same time, having another young person I was mentoring lose his life. I kind of committed myself to not being an attorney, becoming John Burris and making a lot of money—because that’s who I had wanted to be, John Burris, civil rights, make a lot of money, do those kind of things. I dedicated myself to law enforcement and trying to impact kids. Which, fast forward again, brought me to Oakland.
What really grabbed me initially was the death of the four police officers. Looking into Oakland, what brought me here was how many young people die in the city of Oakland—people the age of my kids, in their twenties.
Oakland North: What would you say is the difference between Long Beach and Oakland?
Anthony Batts: It’s interesting you say that, because I sat down with a professor at Harvard, and he and I were having a conversation and I was saying, “Where should I go next? What should I do?” He said, “The first thing you need to do is write down the differences between the two agencies, the two cities. What went well? What didn’t go well?”
Oakland and Long Beach, when you look at it on paper, are like sister cities. You have one that’s like 492,000 [people], Long Beach, and Oakland is about 420,000. The cities are both diversified. I thought Long Beach was a liberal city when I was there. But it seems moderate, compared to Oakland. Here, when I came, you had a mayor who wasn’t supportive of law enforcement–Mayor Dellums–but he wanted a chief to come in that could communicate to law enforcement.
In Long Beach, the police department was seen as a tool. The police department here is seen as the enemy, which makes it more difficult. The body politic in Long Beach was supportive and thought of the police department as a mechanism, a part of the city. In Oakland, the police department is seen as a necessary evil and the government spanks the police department because it’s the bad child. In an overly simplified version, that’s what I see.
Both are very well educated, both have an activist stance, but Oakland is a very robust activist community, in comparison to Long Beach. Oakland will flare at the drop of a hat, as compared to more of an apathetic role in Southern California.
Oakland North: Why do you think that is?
Anthony Batts: Just the nature of the history in Oakland. Oakland had the influx of African Americans from the South from 1939 to 1945, which is Kaiser building ships during WWII. You had a dramatic influx of African Americans—I think the population went from 8,000 to 100,000 in five years. It goes from there to bringing in southern police officers, to 1965 and the Black Panther movement and the socialism of the ’60’s. [That] has carved what you have in the tapestry of Oakland today. It takes a great deal of pride in being an activist community.
The politicians on the council take a great deal of pride in being activisst, which runs into problems. It’s kind of like being pregnant—either you’re pregnant or you’re not. Either you’re in government or you’re not in government; either you’re an activist or you’re not. I think it is very difficult to be both and the politicians here try to be both.
The mayor said in the newspaper last week that she’s the mayor but she’s an activist. That becomes very difficult, in those roles, because this police department is here for you. Remember, I said the body politic looks at this police department as not a part of the city—that it’s the bad child that you’re putting on the side and beating it. So that allows you to be an activist—but you’re not, you’re a part of the leadership of the city. The police department comes under you. You have responsibilities. So you can’t send the police department out and then stand in front of the police department and say, “You can’t do the job.” There are contradictions to that.
Oakland North: Have you read the statement released by the Oakland Police Officers Association last week regarding the government response to Occupy Oakland?
Anthony Batts: No.
Oakland North: Well, in the statement, OPOA addresses Mayor Jean Quan and expresses confusion about what they call “mixed signals.” What is your response to that?
Anthony Batts: No comment. I won’t say anything purposely bad about the mayor. I don’t think that’s ethical. I think being the mayor is a tough job. But I think when you become a mayor or a police chief you have to make tough decisions and they’re not always popular decisions. You can’t lead always by what the community wants you to do. Sometime you have to make those tough decisions that are best for the community. It’s like when you are raising children—not saying the community are children at all, but it’s like when I was raising my children, I sometimes had to do things that did not make them happy. But they look back and say, “Thanks, Dad, it was the right thing to do.” In leadership, you have to stand out there by yourself and make those tough calls. That comes with courage.
Oakland North: You resigned before the city decided to evict Occupy Oakland protesters from the plaza in front of City Hall, which resulted in mass arrests and a confrontation between protesters and police. How would you have handled Occupy Oakland?
Anthony Batts: I don’t want to Monday morning quarterback because I didn’t have all the data. But I will tell you this hypothetically: In the Mehserle incident, there were five different mass riots. [First] when Oscar Grant lost his life on that BART station. You had a series of flare-ups during the month of January 2009 [before Batts’ arrival in Oakland in autumn 2009]. It looked very bad for the city. I remember looking at it and saying, “My God, everything is on fire,” and it reminded me of the Watts riots in the 1960s. When I came to town in late 2009, we had another flare-up in, I think, July 2010, when Mehserle was sentenced. He was found guilty. He wasn’t found guilty of murder, he was found guilty of manslaughter and that caused us to flare.
We started planning that several months before. I remember walking in here with my staff—we were about a month out and we had an operation order. I read this thing and I thought it was very lacking. I called my entire command staff—assistant chief, deputy chief and captains. I said, “Nobody leaves this room—I don’t care how late it is—until you tear this thing apart and build it back together and you plan contingencies for anything that may happen.” I threw the thing down and I walked out the room and I said, “That’s a direct order.”
What I was trying to get them to [do] was to plan the what-if’s. What if we do this? What if we do that? What’s going to be the counter to it? Because usually when I find things that have gone wrong, it’s because I had failed to plan. It’s like playing chess: If you do this, there’s going to be an opposite reaction to it. And so those guys, on that particular time, didn’t leave out of that room until two in the morning.
Basically, people were not only attacking Mehserle—they were attacking law enforcement and how law enforcement had treated them over centuries or decades. So what we had done, with the previous administration, which was Mayor Dellums and the other people, we brought the community in. And we said, “We want you to work with the community on the front end.” The mayor had said, “We want you to have the First Amendment right to protest.” So we brought in community leaders. Bishop Bob Jackson was very active, and he brought in all the other pastors that were active in it, and we talked to people. So people got the chance to express their anger and their frustration. But we, on the police side, we were connected to that.
So when the protesters we were working [with] said, “OK, it’s getting ugly now, we’re going to depart,” they departed and we issued orders and directions, but we still didn’t move in. We allowed the protesters to start breaking into Foot Locker. They broke into Foot Locker and different places. But we had to do that because we didn’t want to look like this was a police action, where we were responding too soon. Then we had a very coordinated plan. It took us time to just kind of corral them, bring them in, and take them to jail. We didn’t have any complaints whatsoever, and the citizens said we did a good job.
I remember the next day—and this is when I knew we did a good job—I was driving somewhere, and I was just in my t-shirt and jeans and hat. My girlfriend and I got out of the car and this guy comes running across the street. He has these long dreadlocks, and he was really big and buffed up, and he had tattoos. He runs up to me and I go, “This is going to hurt!” [Laughs.]
He says, “Are you chief of police?” And I go, “Yeah.” He says, “I just want to shake your hand. You guys did a good job last night.” Which meant all parts of the community came out and said, “Even though you did what you had to do, you did in the right way.”
When looking at Occupy Oakland, I think you need to do the same thing. We had a template that was out there that needed to be used. We needed to use the community. We needed to set up liaisons and communication and talk on the front end. Get the pastors involved, get the people involved and give it time. Because the reality is we have plenty of time. There’s no criticality. There’s no emergency. Really, all you have is people sleeping on grass. I mean that’s really what you have. I don’t know what the importance, was nor do I want to second- guess it. I wasn’t in the room. I don’t know.
I do know when we did it for Mehserle in July 2010 and then Mehserle for November 2010 [after his sentencing], we did all these steps and we kind of wrote out a template. I think things would have ended better if we would have used the template that we had established for the city as a whole: Make sure the community is a part of it, so the police are not the front end because then we look bad. And then I think it becomes problematic when you have to go back and allow people to come back to a situation where you’ve expended all of this overtime money and resources.
Oakland North: What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?
Anthony Batts: My biggest accomplishment is not a big one. I think I presented it in my letter of resignation, where it talked about major crowd control situations where we had hundreds of people out here and thousands of police officers. It’s not that. You say in my first year we reduced crime pretty significantly—violent crime. It’s not that. You may say, although I get banged for it, this NSA [Negotiated Settlement Agreement]-related stuff, we did a lot to accomplish on the NSA.
And it’s not that that I’m proud of. It’s the story about the little boy I met in the hallway, that I mentored, who by spending time with him, turns around and tries to mentor another young kid that’s having the same problems that he is. Now he’s become a leader, his grades have gone up, and he’s trying to help someone else. That’s my biggest accomplishment, for me.
ON: Is there anything you would have done differently?
Anthony Batts: Yeah. I had a very short timeline, and I’m leaving a year before my contract is up. I think what I needed to get done would have taken five to seven years. I think the change I needed to get done, in the short amount of time, made it a little more problematic for me, a little problematic for the organization. If I had to do it all over again, walking in here…to change the culture of this police department, to inspire this police department, to move it along the lines, to teach, to educate it, to paint a picture for it, would take five to seven years. So I would have stretched out my timeline, instead of three years.
Oakland North: How was your working relationship with former City Attorney John Russo and City Attorney Barbara Parker, although there have only been a few months in time overlap with Parker?
Anthony Batts: Excellent with both. John Russo, I spent a lot of time talking to him. I would call him on different things, I would ask his opinion, because where I came from in Long Beach, I did the same thing there. I had a great relationship with the city attorney there. From a legal aspect, you have to go to them and say, “What do you think—should we do this? Can we do this? Is this legal? Is this a bad thing?” And what the city attorney in Long Beach used to always say is, not only “Is it legal?” but if it passes the “smell test.” Is it ethical? Does it sound good and work well for the people as a whole?
When I came here, I used Russo for the same things in his office. We also had an attorney assigned to us, Rocio Fierro, who I’d bounce ideas off of. So my relationship was magnificent.
Barbara Parker I did not have a chance to work with as well. I just worked with her the last few months. I know she’s very well-educated.
Oakland North: When you resigned, you spoke about problems with the city bureaucracy and you have frequently been critical of police department understaffing. How did not being able to do certain things make you feel?
Anthony Batts: I think the biggest difference for me, compared to where I came from in Southern California as the chief there of a major organization—the fifth largest city in the state of California, and coming to the eighth largest city in the state of California—I felt like I had 20 percent control of this police department. And that was from day one. That wasn’t just from Jean Quan era. That’s also from the Dellums era going into the Quan era. I think I had less control under Quan than I did with Dellums.
And even with the Dellums [era], it’s not Dellums the person, it’s the bureaucracy of the city of Oakland, that I only had 20 percent control. You’re under the consent decree, first of all. [Note: After Oakland police officers were accused of using excessive force and planting evidence in the “Riders” scandal, a federal judge ordered a consent decree, which requires that an independent monitor track the OPD’s progress on reforms and submit progress reports to the US District Court].
You have to pass everything by federal court. When you do new policies, when you do new procedures, when you’re changing directions, when you’re dealing with things that use the force of training—you’ve got to send that by the monitoring team of the city of Oakland. So they have to see everything that I’m doing. I have to call them twice a week. I have to call them on Tuesday: “Hey, this is what I’m doing, and this is what is going on.’ I have to call them again on Friday: “Hey, this is what happened, this is what is going on.” And the next week it’s the same thing.
If I’m going to make changes, I have to go to all of the subcommittees dealing with the council. You have the public safety committee. You have the council itself, that sometimes you have to take names to. You have the CPRB — that’s the Community Police Review Board — that you have to take names to. You have the Measure Y subcommittee that you have to take names to. And then under Mayor Quan, you have the liaison for the mayor’s office, and the mayor, and then you have the City Administrator and the City Administrator liaison that you have to take names to.
Say I had a flareup of crime in the city of Oakland. I don’t have time to go through all of these people and ask their permission—“Mother, may I?”—because crime changes very quickly. I have to react. I have to move resources. I have to move bodies, and I have to get things done.
In the City of Long Beach, I did it. I did not go to anyone, I did it, and then I reported back and people had faith that I would get it done. And I got it done. They’ve had crime reduction 8 straight years, going on their ninth straight year of crime reduction.
Here in Oakland, I can’t react as quickly. I have to ask “Mother, may I?” to make sure everyone is OK with what I’m doing. I have to make sure I’m not stepping on political toes. I have Measure Y, where I have 75 officers that are dedicated for community policing. So if I was having a problem with rapes in the middle of the night, I can’t move those 75 officers to deal with this issue. They have to continue doing what they are doing. So I really don’t have control of all my resources and my numbers and my deployment.
Say in patrol, the guys that were “black and whites,” we have about 275 police officers working it. Seventy-five of that 275 are Measure Y people. So that leaves me with the other 200 seven days a week. So I don’t have control of roughly a third of my resources to deal with issues. That’s the difference.
Oakland North: Do you think that affected the morale of the police department?
Anthony Batts: The morale was extremely low the first day I walked in here. I did an employee survey, and I think 9 percent had faith in the leadership department the day that I walked in here. Morale was at its lowest. A consultant looked at it, and said, “I’ve never seen numbers this low within the organization.”
In Southern California, the police are heralded there more—they are seen as heroes. The body politic pays more attention to graduation, retirements, promotions—you see more council people there.
In Northern California, the police department is seen as the stepchild. You don’t see the participation from the body politic in the police organization as it has in the past. So that’s a significant morale thing.
Here’s the bottom line: I had a mentor who was a City Manager in Long Beach. His name is Jim Hankla. He said, “The police department needs patting on the head more than any other department that I had.” They need to be told they’re doing a good job—more than public works, community development, more than the fire department, more than anybody. And I always kept that lesson with me.
So here, you have a police department that never gets patted on the back. It sees itself as stepchild, or a black sheep or something. So that’s a morale issue and that’s how police departments are built. So I think that’s part of the issue, too.
The basics to do police work are not there, many times. Kind of like: You need to have a car. A lot of cars don’t run. When I became the chief here, I did not ask for new cars, I asked for the ones we had to get fixed. They sat out there for like six months at a time without getting fixed. Our police radios, the lifeline of a police officer, didn’t work, and they still don’t work very well right now. Last year, before we got this new radio system, they were in the middle of an officer-involved shooting [and] the radio system went down. Their lives are in jeopardy.
The basics, like bullets—we didn’t have a good purchase order on getting bullets. So the basics for doing the job have more of an impact on morale than anything. You should have a good working environment, which is cars, the computers should work—the computers didn’t work. They should have enough bullets. … All the basics to do the job have to be there. Just like if you went to your office every day and there was trash all over the place, it was filthy, it was nasty, computers didn’t work, and no equipment was there, you wouldn’t be happy to work there.
Oakland North: What are your thoughts on Mayor Quan’s 100 block plan, which proposes centering policing and preventative resources on the 100 blocks with the highest crime rates?
Anthony Batts: Well there are pros and cons to the plan. Some of that stuff comes off of concepts that I had. Mayor Quan took a lot of my ideas and tried to build them into a plan. January, 2011, I called in all of the city departments, and I sat them down, and said I wanted to focus on what we call “hot spots” in policing, which is like the 100 block plan that Mayor Quan is identifying.
We don’t have enough police officers. We don’t have enough community development people. We don’t have enough of anything. So what I wanted to do is what I did in Long Beach, a “wave” approach, which is the police go in and we clear all of the drug dealers off. We clear all of the people doing crime. Then you bring in the community development people, and see if they can do an infusion of money to correct things. Then you bring in people that deal with blight. . You bring in another piece of the city, Neighborhood Watch, and another piece and another piece. Then when you finish that, you loop back and you bring the police back again to make sure that you clean it up so that you don’t have one entity staying in one place. And I think that’s the concept the mayor has taken, and is trying to build up and trying to make that happen.
The difference between being able to do that in Long Beach and being able to do it that in Oakland is that Long Beach you had maybe five very problematic areas in totality. In Oakland, you have closer to 25 to 30 problematic locations. In those 100 blocks, you’re only identifying five “hot spots.” We have another 15 hot spots. So we can focus on those five hot spots, but I don’t know if you will focus on those five hot spots when the other 15 start to flare.
The problem for us, as a police department, is that our numbers are shrinking. We’re budgeted for 650 police officers—I think we have today 651. But we have put out close to three to five each month [due to retirement, transfers, or termination]. December is our biggest month, and we’re bringing out three a month—let’s say five. Over a 12-month period we’re going to be 60 officers down. We have 35 beats, and right now we’re only covering on a regular basis about 29 of the 35 beats, even today. So as our numbers get thinner, that number is going to go down to 28, to 27, to 26. So with those big holes in your patrol force, and only focusing on five areas — that’s the weakness of the plan overall.
The bottom line—what Oakland needs, period—is it needs to grow a police department. And until it grows the police department, you can put all these other things in there—and all these other things help and work: libraries being open helps the kids, basketball at night to get them off the streets. But for those people that are shooting guns and killing people out there, none of these things help. You need police. You can’t do all of these programs until the police come in and calm crime. People are not going to feel safe coming out of their house until the police come and calm crime.
Oakland North: For the most part, you would say you were committed to the City of Oakland while you were here?
Anthony Batts: Very much so. There’s a difference in the definition of commitment, though. Committed to staying in the city is one, but more so my commitment was to the people of Oakland. My commitment is to stopping people from dying in Oakland. My commitment is to the men and women who go out into the streets on a daily basis with Oakland.
Oakland North: So how did you respond when people questioned your commitment when they found out you had applied for the police chief job in San Jose?
Anthony Batts: Well, part of it that I didn’t share with everybody was the political realities I was dealing with at that time. The political reality was that I was coming in to be a reform chief, and when you’re a reform chief you have to take on very tough issues in a police department. And I came to Oakland—and I told this to [former] Mayor Dellums and [former] City Administrator Lindheim– that I need strong support. If I am going to take on tough issues, I need strong support and I need your backing.
People say Mayor Dellums was an absentee mayor, and whether that’s true or not, I am not going to be the judge. But what I can tell you is that any time I picked up the phone and said “I need you,” he was there for me. Any time I said, “I need to take on this issue,” he was there for me.
So what happened is that the [police officers’] union was supporting Don Perata [for mayor.] He’s a nice man. I got a chance to meet him, but he was very tied into the union. So if he got selected he was going to be very supportive of the union.
Mayor Quan and Councilmember [Rebecca] Kaplan [were] involved in a crowd control situation in July, 2010 [during the protest after the Mehserle verdict]. We were moving forward to arresting people. They got in the middle, and there were some police reports filed on both of them for interfering with police officers. Well, that doesn’t work very well if they are going to be your future bosses. You have Mr. Perata, who’s supportive of the union. You have Ms. Quan, who I had to take a police report on, and file with the D.A.’s office. I had Ms. Kaplan, who I had to take a police report on for interfering with police officers, and it had to be investigated by the San Francisco Police Department. So politically, that wasn’t a very good place be.
San Jose put a lot of pressure, saying, “This job was built for you.” So my commitment to the people didn’t wane. My commitment to the young people losing their lives didn’t wane. I felt my ability to get the job done would’ve been impacted.
I had to ask myself “Can I lead this police department in the way that it needs to be led and protect the police officers? Can I protect the citizens of Oakland in the way that they needed to be protected and to save lives?” And if I couldn’t do that—I could have all the commitment in the world, but if I didn’t have the tools to get the job done, it was a waste of time.
Oakland North: At the press conference announcing your resignation a reporter asked if you felt you had let down the African American community, and because of time constraints you didn’t answer it. What is your answer to it now?
Anthony Batts: I think there are people that are disappointed. Even when I got out of my car today, walking to City Hall, I was greeted by like 15 people, not even exaggerating. And even the day I resigned, walking to my car, I had people hugging me, saying, “You can’t go, we love you, you’re the best chief we’ve ever had.” And that just blows me away. It makes my heart cry. There a number of leaders that are sad that I’m leaving, and they share that. And I’m sad that I’m leaving, because I’d like to stay and finish what I started.
You know, I’m not used to walking away, half-doing things. I’m not using to saying, “OK, I can’t make it through this.” I’ve always been a person that stays with it and drives and drives. But if you see that you can’t get it done—not for any fault of your own, not for any weakness of your own, but because other things are in your way that stop you—you have to ask yourself, should you remove yourself from the problem and allow someone else to step in to change that?
I hope I haven’t disappointed anyone. I hope during the time that I’ve been here I’ve electrified a community. I hope I have electrified the police department and the command staff. Hopefully they will walk away with things that I have taught them to make it better and to make sure they work better and close with the community.
I know I was successful when the executive level was talking and they said, “One of the things we really have to understand — we did a terrible job, you made very clear, is that we have to be more supportive and more open to our community.” And if that’s not the biggest thing, that’s a touchdown right there, and that’s what I walk away with.
I tell people this all the time: the only reason government exists is to provide service in a way that citizens see, not the police department sees it. And this organization has not been in touch with that. The second half of that is, if you don’t provide services in a way the community sees it, then you shouldn’t exist.
So as this police department moves on, what I hope to leave as a legacy is a police department that will continue to grow to be closer with this community. They don’t have to count on one short little bald guy who came to town to make the change. Now I have laid that foundation, and I have put mechanisms to continue that and hopefully that continues.
Oakland North: So has it been the focus of the police department during your tenure to rebuild and strengthen community relations?
Anthony Batts: The last two years, that has been my focus. I’ve brought people in that have been critical of this police department, that have said this department is abusive.
Wilson Riles Jr. is an ex-councilman, and is very much against curfews, something I have been in favor of. He asked to come see me one time early on, and he even brought a coalition of people with him. When he started that meeting, he was pointing his fingers and spitting, and [Batts growls like a lion]. But by the time he left that meeting, he said, “You know what? I think we’re going to be friends. We may not agree on everything. But I think we’re going to be friends, and that’s what it’s about.”
Some lady gave me a gift yesterday. It says “Learn to listen deeply and learn compassion.” You can’t listen deeply if your mouth is running. 1,000 Mothers [Against Violence]– I brought them in for a reason. They were very critical of the service we gave, and I wanted to change that. But listening to their stories and listening to the pain brings chills to me. It crushes my heart. But I wanted to know that. I want to know and feel how people feel out there. I think if I can get those mothers to come to a council meeting, and away from all the normal whooping and hollering and other silliness that goes on, to listen to these mothers and these families that are left behind — maybe people will understand. That’s what my passion has been. My focus hasn’t been anything else than saving lives.
Oakland North: Do you think the proposed youth curfew or the gang injunctions will still go forward, now that you and John Russo have both moved on?
Anthony Batts: I don’t have the slightest idea. See, all those things are just tactics. [There are] a thousand tactics out there. The reality is there are too many guns on the streets of Oakland, and people are dying as a result of those guns. So you have to do different things that are going to reduce the number of guns out there.
There are two things that go along with the [proposed youth] curfew. Number one: If you have a 10-year-old, 12-year-old kid that’s out there at 2 in the morning standing on the corner in front of a liquor store, that’s a family in crisis. So someone should take note that that family, grab that child, take the child off the street, give wrap-around services to that family, and get that family support in.
If a kid’s out on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday night, they’re not going to school in the morning. You got to get that kid back into school because their greatest amount of hope is in school and education. And so you have to drive that.
I have another young man in one of the college classes that I talk to. I go and talk to classes all the time. He was one of the guys that was out of the life recently— you can see that, and he told me that. He said, “You know what? These kids out here that are 14 years old are carrying guns.” He said, “You guys treat them like they’re 14-year-old kids. These are 14-year-old grown men, and they will kill you in a heartbeat. They will shoot you in the head.”
And then he says, “You don’t even know half the shootings going on out here.” He says, “Until you guys wake up and find a way to get guns out of their hands, it’s never going to stop.”
You don’t do a curfew every night. When you start having crime spikes, curfew allows you to stop people. And if they have the fear that you’re going to stop them, they’re going to leave the guns at home. And most of the violence here in Oakland is not large amounts of gangs—10 guys versus 10 guys, 15 guys versus 15. It’s: I come off a bus and you look at my girlfriend wrong and I have a gun in my pocket, I pull it out and I shoot you. That’s 90 percent of our shootings here.
If I can find a way to let people know that I may to stop you, you’ll leave that gun at home. So when you step off that bus, and that’s the guy that looked at your girlfriend—if you get into a fistfight, then you get into a fistfight. But you don’t shoot and kill people.
You have to find different tactics that take guns off the streets. Curfews are one. Injunctions are one. There’s 15,000 other ways of doing it. But the overall strategy has to be removing guns from the streets.
Another issue taking place is the police department shrinking. Because [people on the street] think our numbers are so thin out there now, they’re carrying guns on their person. So they’re more apt to shoot each other. They’re carrying drugs on their person, because they don’t think we’re going to stop them at any time. They’re not afraid anymore.
So will they go forward? I don’t know. I can’t tell you how many community meetings I have gone to, and community people say, “I want curfews. I want injunctions. I’m scared to death out here, I’m scared to death for my kids. We need to gain control of the city.” I’ll say, “Why don’t you come down and say it at a council meeting?” They say, “I’m scared to death to go down to a council meeting because there is no control at the council meetings.” So all you have out there at the council meeting are the loudest people yelling and screaming.
So in order to make them feel comfortable, first off all you have to get control of the council meetings, where people are not yelling from the rafters — where everybody gets to talk, where they’re not intimidated and not threatened, and everybody’s voice is heard.
Oakland North: How do you think Chief Howard Jordan will function as Interim Chief of Police?
Anthony Batts: I think Chief Jordan comes to the table with different skills than I have, which is good. It’s not good or bad—I think every person in leadership comes with different skills. I see Chief Jordan as a very patient person. He likes to think. He’s an analytical person. I think his style is calming. I purposely wanted to shake things up; I think his style is calming. I think he’s been with the city for 24, 25 years.
I think he not only wants to be not just the interim chief — I think he wants to be the chief going on. I think he can be a uniting force, depending on if he wants to do that. He can unite the police department with City Hall, and the community and all these pieces. I think he can be the person that brings the city out of this consent decree after 10 long years. I think he can bring the union to the table. The union is so powerful within this police department. I think he can play all of those roles, and that will be up to him, but I think he has all the tools to be successful.
Oakland North: What are your plans now that you are leaving?
Anthony Batts: Well, my first plan is to take about six months to catch my breath. I’m going to work with Harvard, do some research with Harvard. Harvard wants me to look at some domestic policies dealing with law enforcement as a whole. I have become interested in dealing with international policies in policing. I want to see how policing is done in Europe as compared to Africa, as compared to Australia, as compared to the Orient, and just see how all the pieces grow as a whole.
Between those two things, I’m going to do what they want me to do. Hopefully, they’ll let me do a little bit of what I want to do. And try to catch my breath and relax. I am a grandfather now. I have another grandchild on the way. So spend some time with my grandchildren, and enjoy a little bit of life.
I have been doing this for 30 years. Work has taken more of my time than it should have as, I’ve gone through this career. So now it’s time to kind of focus on family. And after that if the opportunity comes up to become a chief again, I’ll step into that. If not, I have a consulting firm. I have a lot of different offers coming at me now—actually, too many offers. I have to pick what’s good for me, because too many people want me to get involved.
Oakland North: What are your hopes for the city of Oakland?
Anthony Batts: I have a tough time answering that, because I know part of the reality for the city of Oakland—although all of these things that I have talked about, people may not grab them, or believe in any of them. But I’d like to see the loss of life reduced in this city. I’d like to see this police department become part of the city of Oakland. And I’d like to see the officers treat this community with the utmost respect, and do it in a professional way. I’d like to see the city work together as a city, instead of a thousand divergent parts, in that employees throughout the city are given respect. I’d like to see people understand how tough it is to be a councilperson and how tough it is to be a mayor, too, at the same time.
I want the city to be seen differently from the outside—that it’s a very well- mannered city, that it’s a city that’s under control, and that we value life. I think the bottom line is what I’ve told this police department—and it’s written down in policies—that we have to have a reverence for life. That takes precedence over everything else.
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.