Will Jean Quan Fire Anthony Batts?

Or will Oakland's police chief leave on his own? At this point, he seems to hold all the cards.

Eight months ago, Anthony Batts looked like he might become one of the best police chiefs Oakland has had in a long time. The wildly popular, charismatic chief had said all the right things, and appeared intent on making the city a better place to live. But maybe all the adulation Oaklanders poured on him went to his head. It’s hard to say. Because over the past eight months, Batts has displayed a different side to his leadership skills, and it’s been an eye-opener.

It started last spring when Batts refused to get involved in the most important union negotiations involving his police force in the past decade. At the time, it was clear that the Oakland City Council was going to vote to lay off police officers, unless the cops’ union agreed to pay 9 percent of its pension plan like all other city employees do. Batts might have been able to use his popularity to help find a creative solution to a difficult financial situation. Instead, he couldn’t be bothered.

Then when the police union refused to back off its no-layoffs demand, the Oakland City Council, the mayor, and the city administrator agreed on a tough decision to lay off eighty cops. But what did Batts do? He immediately undermined his bosses by announcing publicly that OPD would no longer respond to some types of service even though past chiefs with fewer resources were able to do so.

Then in October, before the election, he applied to become San Jose’s police chief, apparently because he was upset about the layoffs. And then after the election, when Mayor Jean Quan was starting to put together her new administration, Batts lied to her and Councilman Larry Reid, telling them he had no intention of leaving.

Throughout the fall, Batts also refused to actively support a large parcel tax measure that would have allowed him to rehire the laid-off cops, plus hire more. At the same time, he continued to contend that Oakland needs 925 police officers to effectively combat crime, but offered no ideas for how the near-broke city would be able to afford it without a large parcel tax.

Then after San Jose decided last week to hire someone else as its police chief, Batts publicly trashed the Oakland City Council, the mayor, and the city administrator, telling the Oakland Tribune that their lay-off decision was “horrendous,” even though he had done nothing to help them arrive at a different one.

Batts also has steadfastly refused to criticize the Oakland police union, even though Oakland’s problem is not that it spend too little on police, but that its cops make too much money. The average Oakland officer costs the city $188,000 a year, including benefits — far higher than other large cities with high crime rates.

In short, Batts showed over the past eight months that he apparently views his role as police chief as: 1) Make unaffordable demands, 2) Refuse to help city leaders find a way to meet his demands, 3) Try to jump ship when they can’t meet his demands, and 4) Publicly trash them for not meeting his demands.

Batts also said late last week that he still wasn’t sure whether Oakland was a good “fit” for him, and refused to commit to staying on. He even asked the Tribune not to quote him by his title as police chief, and instead wanted only to be called “Anthony Batts.” Mr. Batts, however, stopped short of saying he didn’t want his $250,000 a year salary any more.

Nonetheless, as of early this week, Quan seemed convinced that Batts was still a good “fit” for Oakland. Publicly, she said she hoped he would stay, while some of her supporters hoped he would quit or that she would ask him to. Other city leaders, meanwhile, reportedly had begged Batts to remain as police chief.

At least one councilwoman, however, appeared to muster up the courage to take on the popular chief. Jane Brunner, who led the negotiations with the police union and was the biggest cheerleader for the parcel tax, called out Batts for not helping with either and told the Trib that she believes he “needs to want to be here.”

Quan, meanwhile, announced Monday that the department would rehire ten of the cops laid off last summer because it had enough money in its budget due to retirements and attrition. The mayor also vowed to make fixing police equipment a top city priority. Batts publicly praised Quan for her actions, but said he would not decide until the end of the week if he will stay.

Three-Dot Roundup

Oakland police shot and killed two men in the past week. One refused to put down his guns after leading cops on a high-speed chase, police said. The other had a fake assault rifle. … Quan and other big city mayors met with Governor Jerry Brown in an effort to convince him to kill his plan to eliminate redevelopment agencies. Brown told the mayors he would consider it if they could find similar savings elsewhere in the budget. … In another example of how devastating the Great Recession has been, 100,000 people were expected to apply for Section 8 housing in Oakland even though only 650 of the publicly subsidized vouchers are available. … Animal control officers found 33 pit bulls crammed into an East Oakland home, living in small cages and covered in their own excrement. … And longtime union official Berresford “Berry” Bingham was found dead in his West Oakland home in what police say appears to have been a homicide. Bingham represented public employees with the City of Oakland, Alameda County, and BART.


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