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Behind Batts' Resignation, Years of Strife

 
Oakland police chief battled city officials almost from the moment he arrived

Anthony Batts

In a move that surprised nobody — except in its timing — Oakland police Chief Anthony Batts tendered his resignation Tuesday, a year before the expiration of his three-year contract. He said he is considering a research position at Harvard University.

His resignation signals significant challenges for Mayor Jean Quan and the city, as the mayor prepares to unveil her public safety strategy at a summit Saturday amid criticisms that she has alienated city and community leaders and done little in response to violent crime.

The presentation, which Batts had planned to co-host, was supposed to reflect a united front between the city and police. But his resignation provides a window into the tensions that have persisted between Batts and city leaders for nearly his entire career in Oakland.

“I’m not surprised,” said City Council member Larry Reid. “I’m not surprised at all. It’s been a very difficult and challenging job for him as chief.”

According to a source who met with the mayor and city administrator on Tuesday, Quan had hoped to eventually replace Batts. But she had not expected his resignation, the source said, and she is concerned that his departure will scare voters away from a proposed parcel tax that would help fund additional officers for the understaffed department.

At a news conference Tuesday, Batts said a lack of officers and resources contributed to his decision to leave, and that he found himself with 20 percent of the control but 100 percent of the accountability.

He declined to comment on his relationship with city leaders, but wrote in a letter to the department, “The landscape has changed dramatically over the past two years and with new and different challenges.”

Almost from the time he arrived, rumors of Batts’ departure trailed the former Long Beach police chief. When former Mayor Ron Dellums hired Batts as a “change agent” in August 2009, the department had 830 officers — which Batts said at the time was not enough. The next year, Quan was elected. By January 2011, Batts was interviewing for the top cop job in San Jose, citing the loss of nearly 200 police officers and micromanaging by City Council members.

When San Jose rejected Batts, he begrudgingly stayed, putting on a happy face in public with Quan but expressing frustrations in private. He faced increasing opposition to his gang injunction and curfew proposals. He appeared increasingly fatigued by city politics, including Quan's appointment of Deanna Santana as city administrator in June. Three people with knowledge of the appointment said Santana, San Jose’s former deputy city manager, had played a role in turning Batts down. When he proposed hiring former acting San Francisco police Chief Jeff Godown as deputy chief, Santana rejected his proposal, feeding the tension between Batts and his bosses.

Quan said Tuesday that she didn't ask the chief to leave, "but if he were to leave, this is a good time, so somebody else can come move this next phase forward."

Batts also struggled to gain favor inside the department, and it showed in his performance, officers said. In recent months, the chief removed himself from crucial city budget talks, and officers said he was increasingly absent from the office.

Then last month, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson told the city the court was likely to get more involved if the department did not finish implementing police reforms ordered in the wake of the 2003 Riders case, in which a group of officers was accused of planting drugs on suspects in East Oakland. A soon-to-be released report criticizing the reforms' slow progress increases the likelihood of a court takeover of the police department. City Council members have become so concerned that they recently scheduled a closed session to discuss the possibility of federal receivership, according to Reid.

“I'm surprised and I'm disappointed he quit in midstream," said John Burris, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the civil suit that prompted the reforms. He said Batts’ resignation showed poor timing. “He gave a very persuasive argument to the judge about his commitment.”

Quan and Santana declined to comment on a potential replacement for Batts, who will likely leave in mid-November. Reid said Assistant Chief Howard Jordan would serve as interim chief, a duty he performed for eight months after Chief Wayne Tucker retired in 2009.

Reid likened Batts to Tucker and his predecessor, Richard Word, who both left the city in fits of frustration with City Council members, whom they accused of micromanaging.

“This council is dysfunctional, period,” said Geoff Collins, the president of the Oakland Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for the Oakland Police Department. “I don’t know how any chief can function here.”

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