Oakland – Anthony Batts, Police Chief, Resigns; Russo, Schaaf React

Oakland’s Police Chief Anthony “Tony” Batts announced his resignation today at a 3 PM PST press conference at Oakland’s City Hall. Batts said he was stepping down because of a lack of resources, and wrote a very telling letter posted here (thanks to Oakland North) in its entirety that reads in part:

It is with great regret that I tender this official notice of my intent to resign as Chief of Police for the City of Oakland.

In 2009, I answered the call for a reform-minded chief; a leader with a focus on community policing and high professional standards. I was told Oakland residents were looking for a strong, visible leader to engage the community and reduce violent crime. (Zennie emphasis) My goal was to help rebuild a once proud, professional department, geared toward crime reduction and community services

With this goal in mind, rather than a chief managing a diverse department of law enforcement professionals making the streets of Oakland safe, I found myself with limited control, but full accountability. The landscape has changed radically over the past two years with new and different challenges.

Batts decision caused strong reactions from Twitter, and from Oakland’s District Four Councilmember Libby Schaaf and Former Oakland City Councilmember and City Attorney and now Alameda City Manager John Russo that we will see later in this post.

Batts wrote I was told Oakland residents were looking for a strong, visible leader to engage the community and reduce violent crime., which asks the reader to read between the lines. The best this Oaklander could come away with is this: ‘Oakland doesn’t seem to want a strong, visible leader that will engage the community and reduce violent crime.’

Here’s Batts on video, courtesy of NBC Bay Area:

View more videos at: http://nbcbayarea.com.

That look Batts has on his face is the “I’m going to resign before you fire me,” look. Given the words both public and private to this blogger, it’s not hard to determine exactly what happened. The City of Oakland 0 in the form of the City Administration – was going to hang Batts out to dry in after U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson told Oakland public officials that the city has failed to meet the terms of a federal consent decree to reform the department after the Oakland Police “Riders” Scandal.

(The Oakland Police “Riders” Scandal concerned four rogue officers who used more than questionable beating and framing tactics against blacks suspected of drug running in West Oakland they targeted as vulnerable due to their records of prior arrests. One of the four Riders spilled the beans on the group, leading to a massive investigation that cast a shadow on the Oakland Police Department so large and dark, there’s no indication when it will fade. For a revealing, if unfortunately and unnecessarily nasty, review of the wrongs of the Oakland Police Department, visit The Op Nat Eye.)

What has come to pass it what this blogger pointed to in criticizing the comments of Oakland District One Councilmember Jane Brunner on January 29th, and about why Chief Batts elected to try and leave after the start of the year:

“We don’t know if there are other issues, it’s not clear… He is very popular, we think he is a good chief, but in my opinion, he needs to want to be here. And if there are things that are preventing him from wanting to stay, he needs to be in the room to have that discussion…If he’s going to stay, he needs to work with us as a team.”

What was blogged then, applies now: Chief Batts has to know his employer, the City Of Oakland, wants to help him stay by providing improved working conditions where possible. To repeat…

To ask the employee (think about that) to lobby for improved working conditions says little good about the employer. The employer is supposed to take responsibility to improve working conditions for the employee.

Libby Schaaf and John Russo Respond

Reached via smartphone, Councilmember Schaaf sent this text:

I’m extremely disheartened by Chief Batts’ resignation. I can’t blame him for feeling frustrated by this City’s inability to unite around a shared vision and commitment to public safety for Oakland. I hope this experience inspires us all to work harder at finding consensus and providing support to our next Chief. Oakland’s future depends on it.

Councilmember Schaaf has long understood the need to support Oakland’s appointed officials, as has John Russo. Reached in his office today, Russo had a lot to say about Batts’ resignation. John said that looking at how the Mayor has positioned the police versus the community, he’s not surprised Batts stepped town. Russo says that with Quan “It’s the City of Oakland Police versus the Black Panthers of the 1960s. He took the job and thought he was getting the tools to do the job.

Russo points to what he says is an “outdated dialectic” that the City of Oakland applies under Mayor Quan. The principle proponent of the same gang injunction program that Oakland seems bent on dismantling in his absence, said Oakland makes “false choices” between spending and curfews, for example, when Oakland should see them as complementary approaches to the resolution of any urban problem it faces.

If Not Quan, Then Santana?

In fairness to Mayor Quan, Batts says that the idea that his relationship with Oakland’s first Asian Mayor is had is “overblown.” But at this high level of politics, what’s not said is as important as what is said. While Batts mentioned his relationship with Mayor Quan, he did not say one thing about having any kind of good relationship with new City Administrator Deanna Santana.

Indeed, Santana’s own letter on Batts resignation points to the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, which lays out a set of steps the City’s police department is to take in its path toward restoration as a department climate where scandals like The Riders can’t happen again. Santana then expresses her regret that she “is not able to continue to work with” Batts on the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA). The NSA really points the way toward Oakland police reform, but was created in a climate where budgets were not being drastically cut, as is the case today.

Indeed, the problem with the NSA is that it, itself, did not come with a policy cost-analysis – and is being administered by a court that doesn’t know how to look at policy dynamics from a fiscal perspective. Now, Oakland’s stuck with a version of the NSA, and now with the two-year Memorandums of Understanding based on it, that don’t meet the department’s current fiscal realities.

This is no knock on Santana as of this writing, but all of my sources point to just enough friction there between them to make Batts move to step down before Santana axed him. And in the process, really poisoning the Oakland Police Chief well just enough to make the job an undesirable one for the most desired job candidates.

What a mess. What a foul stench of a mess.

Stay tuned.

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