Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why Losing Batts Isn’t that Bad

By Robert Gammon
Tue, Jan 18, 2011 at 10:10 AM

Some people are freaked out today over the possible departure of Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts, who is a finalist to take over the San Jose Police Department. Although Batts is well-liked in Oakland, and crime has continued to drop on his watch, losing him may not be such a bad thing. Here are ten reasons why:

1. He hasn’t been loyal. Barely a year after becoming Oakland’s police chief, Batts was already applying for the same position in San Jose. So much for his vow to make Oakland a safer place for young African-American and Latino men.

2. He hasn’t been truthful. Mayor Jean Quan said that after the election Batts told her he intended to stay. But he didn’t tell her until late last week that he had applied for the San Jose job in October — before the election. In other words, when Batts said he intended to “stay,” he actually meant he intended to leave.

3. He’s had unrealistic expectations. Batts has said repeatedly that Oakland’s police force should have at least 925 officers. It’s hard to disagree with that assertion, but there’s just no way Oakland can afford it — not when the recession has resulted in the loss of nearly $100 million annual revenues to the city. Oakland, in fact, can’t afford 700 officers without devastating other basic city 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.

4. He’s not a team player, Part I. When the police union refused to contribute to its retirement plan this summer without a no-layoff guarantee, the city had little choice but to dismiss eighty cops. The police union’s demand of no layoffs was unreasonable when city tax revenues are continuing to plummet. Yet even though then-Mayor Ron Dellums backed the council’s layoff decision, Batts voiced no support for it. Instead, he quietly took the police union’s side and undermined his boss’ position.

By contrast, if Batts had publicly backed the council and the mayor’s position that the police union contribute to its pension plan, then it might have prompted some of the newer and younger officers on the force to stand up to the older, union veterans who had no fear of being laid off because of their seniority. Instead, Batts legitimized the older cops’ stance, and let the younger officers take the hit.

5. He’s not a team player, Part II. Then after the layoffs, Batts immediately went to the Oakland Tribune and announced that Oakland police would no longer be responding to some calls for service. It was an bush-league move that made his bosses — the council and the mayor — look bad. And lost in the controversy was the fact that the Oakland Police Department in the past has had fewer officers then it has now, yet previous police chiefs somehow managed to make sure the department responded to crime.

6. He doesn’t want to be here. His application for the San Jose job proves that. And Oakland, if nothing else, needs a police chief that wants to be here. Yes, being Oakland's top cop is all about doing a lot more with a lot less. But that’s just the way it is in a liberal city that has precious few resources. Oaklanders who want a well-rounded city are just not going to tax themselves more to pay for additional cops when parks are in disrepair and garbage litters the streets — especially not during a recession.

If Batts didn’t understand that fact when he took the job, then he’s not as smart as people thought.

7. He’s too tight with the police union. See number-four above. Plus, there’s this — he decided to break the news of being a finalist for the San Jose job with police union head Dom Arotzarena, and not the city council. That says all you need to know about his priorities.

8. He hasn’t made enough progress in the Riders case. A federal judge is still threatening to seize control of the Oakland Police Department because of a lack of progress in living up to a consent decree involving officer misconduct.

9. Oakland needs better. Quan had it right when she told the Tribune yesterday: “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.”

10. The mayor needs better. Quan should have a police chief who will be loyal and completely truthful and will be a team player.

Finally, there's this: Oakland is just not a law-and-order town and never will be. No matter how high the crime rate, most liberal Oaklanders want more from city services than just a police department. The city’s police chief must understand that fact.

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