Analysis: Chief Batts’ Tenure at OPD, and the Department Going Forward
KQED’s Molly Samuel on Wednesday talked to Jennifer Inez Ward of KQED News associate Oakland Local about Batts’ tenure and the issues his eventual replacement will face.
Here is an edited transcript. (Note: The interview was conducted before Howard Jordan was named interim chief.)
What’s next for the Oakland Police Department?
I think everybody is in shock. Batts in his announcement put a number of public safety projects into a tailspin. And there’s no clear indication of who might be next.
A number of projects could be seriously affected. The first one is that the city is holding a big public safety summit, expecting about 800 residents to attend. Batts was spearheading this; he used his bully pulpit to ask people to participate. It’s unclear if he’ll still be a part of it at this point.
The second thing affected is the city’s upcoming mail-in ballot election. Measure I is asking for an $80 parcel tax. Residents have been hesitant on this so far, even with some money going for public safety initiatives that Batts was working on. Now with the chief saying he’s not going to be around, it’s unclear whether property owners will get behind the measure.
One of the biggest things is this negotiated settlement in the Riders case that a federal judge is asking the city to come into compliance with. The federal courts have asked the OPD to institute a number of compliance measures on civil rights after the feds busted police for violating the civil rights of some residents in the scandal of some years ago.
Since that time the city has struggled to come into full compliance, and right now there are 12 issues outstanding that the city needs to address to fully satisfy the judge, who is threatening a federal takeover.
Are these problems that any Oakland police chief would face?
Many of the problems that Batts faced will continue to snag any incoming chief because of how the city of Oakland is organized. The chief has to report to a lot of heads. I can see some of that being fixed but, I imagine that’s going to continue to be a daunting issue.
But the biggest issue is the limited resources available — the department being understaffed. Batts came in with this grand plan for fundamental change, but in the summer of 2010, the city, under severe financial constraints, began asking officers to contribute to their pension. The union and the city went back and forth, and as a result, 80 officers were laid off.
That’s really when the Batts administration took a turn. He announced that the city could no longer respond to 44 non-violent crimes. And then there were some police shootings and the Oscar Grant demonstrations.
And then to the surprise of everyone, he was a candidate to be San Jose police chief. Since then, for the most part city hall watchers have been keeping a wary eye on the chief, expecting him to jump any moment. But it still took a lot of folks by surprise.
When is Batts leaving?
We really don’t’ have a specific date. I think there’s going to be some negotiation around his salary. The contract is actually pretty open; it doesn’t penalize him if he leaves early.
Mayor Quan has reached outside of city hall for some of her key appointments, including the new city administrator, who comes from San Jose. So there could be someone from inside, but at this point, we’ll have to see what Quan is going to do. This has been a pretty big blow.
What is the process for choosing a new chief?
The chief is appointed by the mayor, and the city council would approve the contract. It’s a pretty straightforward process. Former Mayor Dellums, who appointed Batts, conducted a nationwide search. I’m pretty sure Mayor Quan will follow that route in selecting a new chief.
Some city council members were taken aback; they said they got an email just like everybody else. I think there were a number of councilmembers who would have liked to have been informed ahead of time. Larry Reid, the council president, was informed beforehand.
What does that say about the relationship between Batts and the city council?
I think the relationship has had its tensions. Batts has been seen as a supporter of both gang injunctions and juvenile curfews, two very divisive issues. The city council is locked in an internal struggle on both of those. I think that was a little discouraging for Batts, and I think that affected his decision.
Do you think his leaving will affect how the council decides on those issues?
I don’t think so. At this point people have pretty firm positions. Both of those items are under review and each side is calling for studies to show exactly how effective they are. Until those studies are completed, I think people will stay with their positions.