(Editor’s note: When Chief Anthony Batts was named as Oakland’s new police chief in August 2009, there were high hopes by many for what he would bring to the city. The former Long Beach police chief also had big plans for a community that was struggling for a more positive relationship between police and residents, lower crime rates and respect. The following is the first in a five-part series that looks at Batts’ first year on the job and what the future holds for his tenure as chief of police.)

Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts stood confidently during a press conference this past June, prepared to deliver some bad news.

As a result of recent police layoffs and the city budget situation, Batts was about to ask for federal help to deal with recent hot crime trends in a city that has been repeatedly named one of most dangerous in the nation in 2010.

Facing the bright television camera lights and cluster of microphones, Batts explained the recent layoff of 80 officers by the City Council to deal with budget issues would mean that 44 crimes would now only be reported online. The department was asking for federal help to deal with the expected increase in violent crimes these cuts could trigger.

 There was no question that, as he delivered this bad news, Batts conveyed the strong leadership style that had made him a star, even before he signed the contract to leave Long Beach, California, and become police chief of Oakland.

 Still, such drastic shift in city policing, especially in the first year of his assuming command, many say has put Batts' strategic plan for Oakland at risk.

 A few weeks later, in a phone interview, Batts didn’t mince words when he spoke about what the current situation feels like for him.

 “To be perfectly honest, it was demoralizing losing those officers,” he said. “But I understand what our reality is right now.”

 This January, the pain is likely to get deeper for Batts as it is almost certain Oakland PD will lose a minimum of 22 officers – thanks to a clause included in Measure Y. The measure requires the city to maintain 739 officers on staff in order to get nearly $20 million in funding for violence prevention programs and additional police and fire services. Now with the layoffs, the minimum staffing level has dropped. Some say the $20 million is likely to go away and with it, the salaries for 22 officers.

 To make matters worse, if several ballot measures introduced by City Council do not pass in November, there could be an additional 100 more officers laid off from the Oakland Police Department. One bright spot is the city and the police union recently agreed to a new pension plan for the police force. But that plan is only likely to kick in if a controversial parcel tax is passed. In the meantime, there are some that believe the new pension plan agreement can stave off some of the possible layoffs.

 As Oakland’s new police chief deals with this unexpectedly severe situation, some people are wondering if Batts will stay with the city to finish the fight he begun. And so far, while Batts has enjoyed strong support from many in the community, many are keeping an eye on the city’s weekly crime reports, which continues a positive trend downward.

 “I just know he can find a way,” said Nancy C. Thompson, a lifelong Oakland resident who currently lives in the Lakeshore District. “ Even with everything that’s happened. I still believe he can continue to do some good.”

 

Batts arrives in Oakland, a star is born 

 By all accounts, Mayor Ron Dellums scored major points by landing Batts in Fall 2009. Coming from Long
Beach, California, he was widely viewed as a star, credited with lowering crime rates and bringing administrative order to the Long Beach Police Department during the seven years he served as chief. Dellums had reached
outside of the Oakland Police Department and tapped a man whose name was being chatted about as a bright light in law enforcement.

 Before leading the Long Beach force, Batts worked department for 20 years. Batts is well educated; he holds a doctorate in public administration, a master’s degree in business management and a bachelor of science in law enforcement administration. Batts also holds certifications and awards from a variety of institutes and training courses.

 The tale is told often about how Batts initially spurned the city’s advances. A new Oakland police chief was needed after the failed Wayne Tucker era. Batts only agreed to take the Oakland gig, he said, after the Lovell Mixon shooting incident, which left four OPD officers dead.

 According to media reports coming out of Long Beach, Batts also may have decided to move up north after it was clear that the Long Beach budget cuts were going to slash the department back to the same level as when he became chief in 2002.

 And when he signed on the dotted line, he said he had every intention of ushering in a new era of policing in Oakland and making it one of the safest large cities in California.

 Batts was quickly embraced by many in Oakland, including those residents hoping for a fundamental change in the police department.

“I think that what’s unique about this chief is that this guy’s willing to take responsibility,” said Jakada Imani , executive director of the Ella Baker Center and a lifelong Oakland resident. “And a lot of the chiefs that have come and gone haven’t been that stand up. That’s a huge advantage. He’s come in and said, ‘I want to be accountable, I want to be responsible. I’m in it.’”

 A challenging city

 Crime has been Oakland’s Achilles’ heel for decades. A brief roll call of nationally-known notorious crimes that happened in Oakland includes the Nut Case Killers; the Chauncey Bailey hit allegedly ordered by members of Your Black Muslim Bakery; the Mixon killing of four police officers; and most recently  Oscar Grant being shot in the back by BART officer Johannes Mehserle in Fruitvale. 

 Relations between many communities and the police are mostly chaotic, going generations back. The Black Panthers were able to rise so quickly in Oakland, in part, because they spoke directly about police brutality.

 West Oakland resident Bam Morris said relations would continue to be broken as long as the police refuse to acknowledge some of the historical community pain.

 “People out here are very frustrated by the police,” Morris said. “The police don’t seem to understand that when they commit brutality or treat these young men as if they’re not human, that there’s going to be repercussions behind that.”

 And community distrust of the police continues to run deep especially after the Mehserle verdict. A few young men at the East Oakland Asian Youth Center said there’s constant tension in the street.

 “I be (sic) on 35th and Mac sometimes we’re just out there standing there and when the police tell us to leave, we leave, but sometimes, they’ll just put me in the (police) car for no reason,” said Jacob, who asked that his last name not be used.

 Peter, 20, who also asked for partial anonymity, said constant patrolling by police officers who are looking for young men not doing right creates an “us-against-them” mentality.

 “Basically, it just grows as my not having respect for them as these things keep happening,” Peter said

Olis Simmons, executive director of YouthUprising, said it will take a great amount of work to build a strong, positive relationship between citizens and the city police.

 “Oakland police have a long legacy,” she said. “The question really now is with a black chief who really is committed to preventing the genocide of young black men, how does he re-craft the department in this new era and how does he begin to build trust that begins to put the legacy that the police department has of misconduct and brutality in an historical perspective as opposed to a continual ongoing perspective? And I think with Batts, we couldn’t have hired a better person. The question is can we treat him right … can we hold on to him?”.

Another challenge the department has faced historically is it has been understaffed and badly managed before Batts came on the scene. And Oakland is a workhorse police department with quite a heavy load.

 “Our workload is second to none with any city in California,” said OPD spokesman Jeff Thomason. “Calls coming in to the Oakland Police Department dispatch center are at around 650,000 every year. If you look at the reports we take for Part One Felony (murder, assault, etc.) we take around 30,000 reports a year.”

 Batts was well aware of Oakland’s issues, some of which mirrored problems Long Beach struggled with when he took the helm of that department. But, although OPD was considered understaffed at 803 officers when Batts took over in October 2009, there were some positive signs – including a downward trend happening with murders, assault and other key indicators.

 

Tomorrow: Oakland Chief Batts prepares game plan for department, city

Acknowledgements: Oakland Local thanks Spot.us, which helped us raise the money to fund this series, Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig for editing these pieces, and Jennifer Inez Ward for all her research and writing.

Read more coverage of the Oakland PD here. http://oaklandlocal.com/tags/OPD