When Ron Dellums formally introduced the city's new police chief at City Hall on Monday, he grinned like a Cheshire cat. He confidently spoke at length without notes and repeatedly made eye contact with the dozens of reporters in attendance as he ticked off all the reasons why he selected Long Beach Police Chief Anthony Batts. It may have been Dellums' proudest moment as mayor, and it felt like a turning point in his tenure in Oakland. Indeed, it's hard to imagine the city landing a better candidate.
According to state statistics, Batts assembled an impressive record in Long Beach, particularly when it comes to solving and reducing violent crime. Since taking over as police chief in 2002, the number of homicides there dropped from 67 to 40 last year, a 45 percent decrease. Overall, violent crime dipped 13 percent. Dellums said that Long Beach's crime rate under Batts reached its lowest level since 1975.
By contrast, both the homicide and violent crime rates rose dramatically in Oakland in recent years under former Police Chief Wayne Tucker, who was hired by mayor Jerry Brown in 2005. Dellums also noted that the number of officer-involved shootings, which have also risen in Oakland, plummeted 70 percent in Long Beach on Batts' watch. "That's major," the mayor declared, in a rare understatement.
As this newspaper has reported, one of the reasons Oakland's crime rate has skyrocketed is that the police department's ability to solve crimes has nosedived (see "Arrests Are Down, and Crime Is Up," 12/3/09). Again, by contrast, Long Beach's record for solving crimes under Batts' command has been strong. In 2002, the department solved just 37 percent of its homicides. But since then it has averaged 48 percent. By contrast, Oakland solved just 31 percent of its homicides, on average, during the same time. As for violent crimes, Long Beach's record has remained steady since 2002, while Oakland's dropped significantly.
But Batts appears to be far more than just a results-oriented chief. He has a doctorate in public administration, which is unusual for a cop, and a clear passion for policing and community building. He also exhibited an outsized and engaging personality, a welcome change from Tucker's often-dour demeanor. During the press conference, Batts sparked laughter from reporters when he donned a Raiders' cap, joking that his love for the team was the real reason for why he chose Oakland.
According to sources, the Batts hire also has helped stir a buzz in City Hall about Dellums possibly running for reelection. Sure, it took a while for the former Congressman to hit his stride, but after the past few months, it's hard to see his main rival, former state Senator Don Perata, being a better mayor. If Dellums were to seek reelection, both men would be formidable candidates.
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