.Oakland Is Better Off Without Batts

The city's police chief talked a much better game than he played, and a recent scathing report may be the real reason why he quit.

When Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts suddenly resigned last week, many of his supporters immediately blamed Mayor Jean Quan. She’s too liberal, too soft on crime, they argued. She also was accused of meddling in police business and micromanaging the chief. For his part, Batts didn’t call out Quan directly, but instead grouped her with an unwieldy “city bureaucracy” that he said wouldn’t “let the chief be the chief.” In other words, Batts essentially said it wasn’t his fault that he was leaving.

“It’s not my fault” was an excuse that Batts used often during his two short years in Oakland. He complained repeatedly about not having enough police officers or resources. He griped about having to answer to the city council as well as the mayor and city administrator. And he resented having to enact the police reforms mandated in the Riders case, a federal court action that stemmed from a small group of allegedly corrupt cops who were accused of beating and planting drugs on suspects.

Indeed, few city leaders have complained more often and more loudly than Batts did in the past 24 months. But yet the chief remained popular thanks to his charisma and impressive speaking skills. He routinely wowed residents and community groups with his oratory. He talked a good game, as is often said in the sports world.

But a closer look at Batts’ record reveals that he didn’t accomplish much despite all the flowery rhetoric. Not only has crime jumped markedly in the past year, but Batts failed to accomplish one of the most pivotal tasks on his desk: getting OPD into compliance with the federal consent decree in the Riders case. The consequences for not doing so could be substantial. US District Court Judge Thelton Henderson has repeatedly threatened to put the police department into federal receivership if it doesn’t make more progress. Currently, OPD and the city are facing a January deadline with the court.

As such, it turns out that Batts’ departure might actually have been his fault after all. As the San Francisco Chronicle first reported last week, Batts resigned just two days after the court-appointed monitors in the Riders case sent the city a scathing draft report, noting that in the past three months, OPD had not only failed to make progress, but had regressed. The federal monitors, who are all former veteran cops from other departments, also appeared to call out Batts for the setback and for failing to change a department culture that has long made excuses for or overlooked police officer misconduct.

“If the agency is to ever comport with the requirements of the NSA [Negotiated Settlement Agreement],” wrote chief monitor Robert S. Warshaw, former police chief of Rochester, New York, “… it is ultimately the leadership of the department that must be the impetus for reform and public confidence.” Warshaw added, according to the report, a copy of which was also obtained by the Express: “In almost all instances where compliance falls short, it is because responsibilities for supervision and review are not met.”

Batts and his supporters have repeatedly complained that the mandated reforms are too strict, and the requirements in the consent decree have been portrayed as being the product of overzealous civil libertarians who are anti-police. The truth, however, is the exact opposite. The reforms mandated in the NSA were proposed by the Oakland Police Department. OPD then later asked for and was granted a request to ease those reforms, which were supposed to be enacted years ago. And OPD then gave its stamp of approval to the federal court monitors who are keeping track of the department’s progress.

“Police proposed the standards and we accepted them,” Jim Chanin noted in an interview. Chanin is one of the civil rights attorneys who represented the Riders’ victims. “And the monitoring team was chosen at [OPD’s] insistence. We figured that they’re all police,” he added, referring to the monitoring team, “so we thought that, under this team, the department would be able to comply” with the consent decree.

During Batts’ tenure, the monitoring team has been particularly concerned about Internal Affairs investigations in which Oakland police officers are routinely exonerated after being accused of wrongdoing. In the most recent report, Warshaw pointed to a systemic “cavalier rejection” of the credibility of people who complain about alleged police misconduct and the witnesses to it.

While Batts has griped about having to change OPD culture, Assistant Chief Howard Jordan, who was named interim chief by City Administrator Deanna Santana and Mayor Jean Quan last week, seems ready to tackle the problem head on. At a press conference, Jordan said the consent decree was merely a requirement that OPD engage in “good constitutional policing.” “The fact that we are asked to do constitutional policing should not surprise anyone in this organization,” he added.

Santana also noted that Jordan is intimately familiar with the consent decree and its requirements, and told the Chronicle that she had spoken repeatedly to Warshaw and that he felt Jordan “can move us in the right direction.” Santana, in fact, has decided to hold off on hiring a permanent chief until after Jordan guides the department through the court’s January deadline.

Warshaw and the monitors, meanwhile, also expressed praise for Quan and Santana. “We are comfortable that Mayor Jean Quan and City Administrator Deanna Santana are fully committed to what needs to be done,” Warshaw wrote. “The leadership of the Mayor has involved her direct interaction with the parties, the Court and the Monitor; something that is a refreshing change in the engagement of the executive leadership of the City. City Administrator Santana has demonstrated a keen interest in this matter and we recognize that this is an imperative addition to the guidance and oversight that the Department requires.”

In short, veteran, independent cops from around the country, who were approved by OPD, say the problem with Oakland police has nothing to do with liberalism or micromanagement. In fact, these cops say the department needs more micromanagement, at least from the mayor and city administrator, if it’s going to avoid being put under federal receivership.

Although we may never know why Batts resigned exactly when he did, this much is clear: He has been unhappy for a long time. One year ago, before the mayoral election, he secretly applied to become San Jose’s police chief, a job he failed to get. Moreover, the reason he cited last week for leaving — an overbearing bureaucracy — is nothing new. The Oakland City Council and other city officials have been meddling in police business for a long time. In short, there appears to be no precipitating reason for his sudden departure last week — other than the scathing monitor’s report and the very real possibility that the department may be placed in receivership in January.

Sure, the city council and Quan recently tabled proposals for a citywide youth curfew and for an extension of Oakland’s controversial gang injunctions — two crime-fighting tools that Batts is said to have wanted. But the council has rejected those ideas previously, and so the most recent council vote was not much of a surprise.

Which brings us to Batts’ other stated reason for leaving — that the police chief in Oakland, he said, doesn’t “have the power to make a positive impact,” but is nonetheless “held accountable.” In reality, Batts has escaped accountability throughout his tenure. At no time has that been truer than in 2011 when the mayor got blamed for the crime spike, and the police chief didn’t.

The only thing that Batts was in danger of ever being held accountable for was his failure to enact the consent decree reforms. If the department had been put into federal receivership during his watch, it would have been a huge blow to his well-manicured reputation. But by quitting just months before that might happen he might have deftly avoided being held accountable for that, too.

Oaklanders, however, should never forget. During the city’s time of need, Batts, a charismatic chief who repeatedly promised to do his job, decided to quit, take a part-time teaching gig at Harvard University, collect a lucrative pension, and blame everyone but himself. And if OPD ends up in receivership, it will largely be because he talked a much better game than he played.

Three-Dot Roundup

At a public safety summit over the weekend, Quan and Jordan unveiled a plan to target Oakland’s one hundred most violent blocks where most of the city’s shootings occur, the Oakland Tribune reported. … The Metropolitan Transportation Commission voted 8-6 to purchase a giant, old warehouse in San Francisco for $93 million, the Contra Costa Times reported. MTC plans to leave Oakland and move into the building after renovating it. … Amazon.com‘s attempts to pass a national law that would exempt it from having to collect sales tax appears to be in trouble. The Tribune reported that a bipartisan bill would allow states to force Amazon to charge sales tax even in states where it has no physical presence. … California Democrats are slamming the Obama administration for its failure to help middle- and lower-income homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages, the Chron reported. Many economists say the nation’s economy will not recover until the housing crisis eases, yet banks and the White House are refusing to do anything about it. … As the Occupy Wall Street movement spreads around the globe, California labor leaders are planning a tax-the-rich measure for the November 2012 ballot, the CoCo Times reported. … And PG&E plans to replace 1,231 miles of faulty plastic pipe, the same kind that sparked an explosion in Cupertino earlier this year, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

East Bay Express E-edition East Bay Express E-edition