Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts’s resignation on Tuesday was an enormous blow to a city already facing a public safety crisis and a murder rate that is spiraling upward. Chief Batts, one of the most respected public safety professionals in the United States, came to Oakland in 2009 with a police department strategy designed to dramatically improve police/community relations, turn police department morale around and, most importantly make Oakland one of the safest cities in California.
Two years later, Oakland’s mayor and city council have implemented budget-cutting measures that will ultimately reduce sworn police staffing by nearly 25%. They have slapped down nearly every “force multiplying” measure the Chief has proposed, eliminated the police helicopter, severely limited the use of gang injunctions and refused to consider proposed curfew and anti-loitering measures. Most recently, the mayor and city council members have proposed that if the Measure I parcel tax proposal passes, half or less than half the proceeds will go toward academies, police staffing and equipment. So passage of Measure I will result in only a minimal increase in police.
Thus, it is hardly a surprise that Chief Batts chose to leave. Oakland gave the Chief none of the tools he needed to succeed and set him up to fail. The question is not why he left. The question is what Oakland should do next.
Mayor Quan has already announced plans for a “nationwide search” for Batts’ replacement. Such a search would cost the city well into six figures. Make Oakland Better Now! believes this is not the time for a nationwide search. Instead, we urge Mayor Quan to hire a long-term interim Chief from within the department and immediately focus the City’s energies on comprehensive reform of all of our public safety efforts. Unless reform is and effectiveness are our first priorities, Oakland will never find another satisfactory candidate for Chief of Police.
The first step in reforming our public safety systems is a long-term plan to increase and retain officers. Seven years ago we sent the message to City Hall that Oakland needed at least 803 police officers (Measure Y). When Chief Batts arrived, he announced that by all accepted law enforcement standards we needed 100 more than that. Under the City’s current plan for 2011-13, attrition will reduce the sworn head-count to fewer than 600. While the recently announced federal grant (received as a result of Chief Batts’ outstanding efforts in Washington) will increase this number by 25, that increase falls far short of our needs.
Oakland must make the hard choices necessary to increase and retain sworn officers. This means sacrificing some city programs that have significant constituencies. This means budgeting for a sufficient number of police academies each year. This means looking for budget reforms that make more money available for public safety. And it means redoubling efforts to negotiate a second-tier salary schedule for newly hired officers.
But Oakland must do more than this. The mayor must collaborate with the Police Chief, the Police Department and the Police Officers’ Association to bring the Department into full compliance with the Riders Settlement. It is estimated that this alone could free up to $2 million,. That money could be spent on police staffing.
Furthermore, the Mayor and Council MUST set policy based on informed professional advice, and then let the professionals — the Chief and others — actually run the Department and the programs that combat crime. We must stop micro-management by unqualified politicians and bureaucrats.
Finally, Oakland must bring focus, direction and accountability to its violence prevention programs. Through Measure Y alone, Oakland sprinkles nearly $6 million per year across a broad spectrum of programs. For some programs, there may be clear lines from the money spent to violence reduction. For others, the connection is tenuous, the amounts spent are too small to be impactful, or both. Oakland does not have a spare dollar to waste on measures that do not reduce crime in confirmed, measurable ways. We must only fund those violence prevention programs that have demonstrable, positive effects on crime in our community.
Once Oakland’s leaders have taken these steps – solving the police staffing problem, pulling the department through court supervision, ending the micro-management and spending violence prevention money wisely – it will be in a position to attract and retain a top leader for its police department. Until then, a “nation-wide search” will be a distraction from the essential steps we must take to end our public safety crisis.