Oakland chief resigns as police takeover threatened

OAKLAND, CA &#8211 The city with the state’s highest violent crime rate is again in search of a top cop after Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts announced his resignation Tuesday, saying a burdensome “bureaucracy” left him without enough power to fight crime and build community trust in his department.

Batts, a charismatic leader who sought to bring Oakland into step with a trend toward data-driven policing, was hired in October 2009 by then-Mayor Ron Dellums, seven months after four city police officers were gunned down. He said he took the job because of the tragedy and he quickly won over many residents.

But Batts never firmly planted himself in Oakland. He applied for the chief’s job in San Jose last year, remaining in Oakland after an internal candidate was tapped for the job.

Batts announced his resignation a week after the City Council set aside three crime-fighting proposals he had supported and amid warnings from a judge that the federal courts could take over the Police Department. Moreover, Batts’ views were often in conflict with those of Mayor Jean Quan, who was elected in November, and several council members.

“I found myself with limited control, but full accountability,” Batts wrote in his resignation letter.

Batts, 50, who was police chief in Long Beach before moving to Oakland, appeared at an afternoon news conference at City Hall. He said he plans to depart next month and is considering a position with Harvard University.

Federal control?

It remains unclear how much Batts was influenced by the threat of increased federal control of the Police Department.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson warned Oakland officials about the city’s failure to meet the terms of a consent decree to reform the department in the wake of the “Riders” scandal, in which several officers were charged with beating or framing drug suspects in West Oakland in 2000.

The city initially had five years to make reforms but is now entering its ninth year of trying to comply. Unmet goals include identifying habitually abusive officers and protecting internal whistle-blowers, attorneys said.

Henderson said in a court order that he was “prepared to take appropriate further corrective action if necessary.”

Mayor’s statement

Quan would not answer questions at Tuesday’s news conference. In a brief statement, she said a January hearing before Henderson made it imperative for her to hire a new chief quickly. She is hosting a crime summit Saturday at which she is expected to announce a series of strategies to deal with crime.

“I didn’t ask him to leave,” Quan said. “But if he were to leave, this is a good time so somebody else can move this next phase forward.”

Batts’ chief allies on the council, Larry Reid and Ignacio De La Fuente, said the city’s politicians had failed Batts. The council last week delayed making a decision on expanding the use of civil gang injunctions, implementing youth curfews and beefing up a loitering ordinance – measures Reid and De La Fuente had supported.

“We should be ashamed that we can’t retain a chief who actually wants to do his job,” De La Fuente said.

Reid said, “There are folks in this building (City Hall) who think they know more about policing than the police chief.”

Councilwoman Nancy Nadel, who opposed gang injunctions, scoffed at Batts’ suggestion that he didn’t have enough power over the force. “We are all in a position of wishing we had more control,” she said.

Rashidah Grinage, director of the police watchdog group Pueblo, praised Batts for professionalizing the department but said he should have met more with opponents of gang injunctions.

“I don’t think he was enough of a consensus builder,” she said.

Control undermined

Batts also faced a budget crunch. Under his watch, the council decreased the force from 803 to 651 officers.

In July, Batts addressed the council and told them his control of the department had been undermined. The City Council curbed the use of gang injunctions, grounded the police helicopter and refused to implement curfews, he said.

In addition, he said, the council negotiated a contract with the police officers’ union this summer that reduced his ability to deploy officers by mandating four 10-hour shifts – rather than more flexible five-day, 8-hour shifts.

“The game changed on him,” said Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, president of the police union, where some members have questioned Batts’ commitment. “We wish him well.”

Batts said it was difficult in Oakland for a “chief to be chief,” echoing concerns from at least two of his predecessors, Richard Word and Wayne Tucker. Batts said he had to report to at least 11 different people, from a city administrator liaison to court monitors to the City Council’s public safety chair.

John Burris, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the “Riders” civil suit that led to the consent decree, said failures in reforming the department were a result of the command staff not being able to get “the line officers and the sergeants to do what they’re supposed to do.”

Burris added, “I thought the chief was committed in terms of meeting the terms and conditions of the consent decree. I was surprised that he would leave in midstream, if you will.”

From SFGate.com.

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