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Would the Departure of Anthony Batts Be That Bad?

Oakland's police chief is well-liked, but his record has been mixed.

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Supporters of Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts have contended that he wants to be San Jose's police chief because of substantial cuts to the Oakland Police Department in the past year. They argue that Batts became frustrated after the Oakland City Council laid off eighty cops last summer. For his part, Batts has not said publicly why he wants to leave Oakland, but if it's because of budget cuts, then he's walking into a similar situation in San Jose.

San Jose is facing a $90 million budget gap next year, primarily because of spiraling employee pension costs, the San Jose Mercury News reported. San Jose city leaders say that unless public employee unions, particularly the San Jose police union, agree to contribute more to their retirement plans, then there could be massive layoffs. And so far, the San Jose cops' union isn't happy.

So why would Batts trade his alleged frustrations in Oakland for more of the same in San Jose? Well, it could be that Oakland's budget problem isn't the only reason behind his plan to jump ship. KALW radio news reported that federal Judge Thelton Henderson is not happy with Batts' efforts in living up to the consent decree in the Riders case, and may follow through on his threat to put OPD in receivership. Such a move would irreparably tarnish Batts' reputation.

The Riders case involved rogue Oakland cops who allegedly falsified evidence, and the radio station noted that as of last month, Independent Monitor Robert Warshaw, who is reviewing OPD's compliance in the case, indicated that the department had made unsatisfactory progress under Batts. Moreover, in a written statement last month, Henderson appeared to call out Batts personally for failing to adequately address a police use-of-force allegation that Warshaw uncovered.

Warshaw is scheduled to release his next report on Oakland police soon, and defense attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin, who represented defendants allegedly abused by the Riders, aren't optimistic that Batts has made sufficient progress in the last few weeks. Henderson apparently isn't optimistic either.

Batts, meanwhile, seems to really want the job in San Jose. Last week, he underwent an extensive interview for the position, according to San Jose City Manager Debra Figone. In a memo to the San Jose City Council, Figone said Batts and other applicants were interviewed by a panel of more than forty "stakeholders," including community members, activists, and public-safety professionals.

Figone also said that Batts and the other finalist for the job will undergo a one-on-one interview with her, along with "a psychological evaluation; a background review; discussions with professional and personal references; and a leadership and management assessment" before the city makes its decision in early February.

As for Oaklanders, the news about Batts' possible departure had many of them in a tizzy. They viewed him as a possible savior for the department and for the city's vexing crime problems. But while Batts has made progress, is well-spoken, and crime has continued to drop on his watch, losing him may not be that bad. Here are five reasons why:

1. He hasn't been loyal or truthful. After the November election, Batts told Mayor Jean Quan and City Council President Larry Reid that he intended to stay in Oakland. In truth, he had applied for the San Jose job before the election after barely a year on the job.

2. He's had unrealistic expectations. Batts has repeatedly said that Oakland's police force should have at least 925 officers. It's hard to argue with that assertion, but Oakland simply can't afford it — not when the recession has resulted in the loss of more than $90 million in annual revenues to the city. Oakland, in fact, can't afford 700 officers without devastating other basic services, such as libraries and parks — especially when the police union steadfastly refuses to pay 9 percent of its pension plan like other city employees do.

3. He's not a team player. When the police union refused to contribute to its retirement plan last summer without a no-layoff guarantee, the city had little choice but to dismiss eighty cops. Yet even though then-Mayor Ron Dellums backed the council's decision, Batts voiced no support for it. Instead, he quietly took the police union's side and undermined his boss' position. Batts also legitimized the hard-line stance of police union veterans who had no fear of being laid off.

4. He's not a team player, Part II. Then after the police layoffs, Batts immediately went to the Oakland Tribune and announced that the department would no longer respond to some calls for service. It was a bush-league move that made the council and the mayor look bad. Lost in the controversy was the fact that Oakland has had fewer cops in the past then it has now, yet previous police chiefs somehow managed to make sure the department responded to crime.

5. Oakland needs better. Quan should have a police chief who will be loyal and truthful. She had it right when she told the Tribune: "People need to want to be in a job. ... I want a chief who will be committed for at least two or three years, so we can make some real systemic changes."

Three-Dot Roundup

Oakland police altered its community policing structure, putting more cops in high crime areas. But the Trib reported that some neighborhood leaders in wealthy districts, including Montclair and Rockridge, are upset because they want their own community policing officers. ...UC Chancellor Mark Yudof said the UC system will have to soon turn away qualified California high school students for the first time in at least a half-century because of Governor Jerry Brown's budget proposal. ... Ex-state Senator Don Perata has decided to become a lobbyist. ... And the closed Parkway Theater may reopen in Oakland's Temescal district.

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