With The Chief Leaving, We Have To Fix This Ourselves

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.

Make Oakland Better Now!

OakTalk Here is the blog of Make Oakland Better Now!, an Oakland community grassroots group of a grass-roots group of voters, volunteers, and policy advocates committed to improving the City of Oakland by focusing on public safety, public works, and responsible budgets. Founded in 2003, we’ve researched, lobbied, and successfully campaigned for a number of new, impactful policies, including the city’s Rainy Day Fund, Measure Z and Operation Ceasefire.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Frank Castro

    A very thoughtful and detailed analysis on what Oakland needs to do in order to increase public safety.

  2. Rick Philips

    Absolutely on point.
    Right on!
    Public Safety is now the whole ballgame in Oakland, followed by budget reform.
    We must keep up the focus.

  3. hedera

    I absolutely agree with this but – you think Jean Quan is going to do any of this?? OUR mayor?? Sigh.

  4. JW Yager

    All of these recommendations are exactly right on target. But, of course, the assumption is being made that we are dealing with a competent, efficient, and logical city government structure. City Hall is a master at getting rid of competent employees like Chief Batts because, frankly, he was trying to convince them to do the right things! The right things in this instance are: (1) stop whining about the budget and the OPD officer’s union and start looking to the city bureaucracy to cut expenses (“pay for performance” anyone?); (2) let the Chief of Police run the police department – get out of the way; (3) use the city bureaucrats to get the expensive (and now quite useless) Negotiated Settlement Agreement done and out of the way — some people seem to be making a career of it anyway. In order to accomplish the plan described by MOBN, one would need to have a serious shake-up in the City Council and the Mayor’s office for a start. Given the “sit on your hands” stance of most Oakland citizens, this is going to be difficult to make happen to say nothing of the vocal minority (with some members of City Council backing them) that wants only social programs and that seems to usually get its way. There’s a GREAT deal of work to be done to bring a logical plan to fruition. I’m not sure the crime rate will wait.

  5. Mark B

    I’m not sure if any of those things will happen. I seem to think that our best option is to recall Jean Quan as Mayor. This appears to be the strongest message we can send to the City Council.

  6. Charlie Stephen

    This is a very sensible analysis of where we are and where we ought to be going. Let’s translate these ideas into focused action over the next few months.

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