Oakland’s next police chief introduced at City Hall
By Kelly Rayburn, The Chauncey Bailey Project
OAKLAND — Much has been made over the past six days about Oakland and Long Beach’s similarities.
Both are port cities. Both are remarkably diverse. Oakland has about 404,000 people, census figures show. Long Beach has about 464,000.
“What I haven’t figured out,” said Long Beach police Chief Anthony Batts, who was selected last week by Mayor Ron Dellums to take over atop the Oakland Police Department, “is the difference in the crime rate.”
In 2008, Oakland had 21/2 times as many violent crimes and almost three times as many homicides as Long Beach, state Department of Justice figures show. So far this year, reports of serious crime are down 14 percent in Oakland, and homicides have dropped 24 percent.
Still, reducing crime will be a priority for Batts when he starts in Oakland. He’ll also grapple with a troubled budget, oversight by a federal court and a department still reeling from the loss of four officers who were fatally shot March 21.
Oakland’s chief-to-be was formally introduced Monday at an afternoon news conference in Dellums’ office.
“This is a very learned and scholarly person who is brilliant, competent and capable, who has the respect of his fellow police officers in Long Beach and respect for the community,” Dellums said.
So far, Batts, 49, who said he was “overwhelmed” by the number of cameras and reporters at the news conference, also has won high marks from City Council members and community anti-crime activists. Barring any contract problems, either in Long Beach or Oakland, he should start in September.
He initially didn’t want the job. Batts said the city’s headhunter, Massachusetts-based consultant Bob Wasserman, contacted him in early March, asking if he was interested.
“I told him I was not,” Batts said. “I told him I was fine in Long Beach.”
It was three days later, Batts said, that parolee Lovelle Mixon fatally shot four Oakland police officers. Batts called the officers “heroes.” He was one of thousands of police officers who came from across the country for the funeral at Oracle Arena.
After the service, he said, he sent a text message to Wasserman: “I want to help.”
On Monday, the Long Beach chief wore a black commemorative bracelet with the four officers’ names that was given to him by Oakland police union President Sgt. Dom Arotzarena. He also commended acting Chief Howard Jordan for guiding the department after the shootings.
“He stood tall,” Batts said.
News of Batts’ departure came as a surprise to Long Beach city officials, and even Batts said he was unaware Dellums planned to make the announcement so soon.
Batts’ contract in Long Beach includes a clause requiring he give 90 days’ notice to Long Beach before leaving his post, but the City Council can waive that requirement. The matter will go before the Long Beach council in a closed-door session today, said City Attorney Robert Shannon.
“I can’t speak for the City Council, but I don’t think it will be a problem,” he said.
It’s also unclear what kind of contract — if any — Batts will get in Oakland. That issue will be sorted out by the Oakland City Council when it returns from its summer recess in September.
City Administrator Dan Lindheim hasn’t offered specifics on the proposal he will present to the council, but he said Monday it will be a multiyear deal. As for dollars and cents?
“It’s not going to be a pay cut,” Lindheim said. “I don’t think it’s going to be radically different, but I think it’s not going to be a pay cut.”
Batts’ base salary in Long Beach is $219,912, a city public information officer said. He also receives an additional $10,800 annually in Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training management certificate pay.
Oakland council members who have been interviewed about Batts say they like what they see.
“He clearly has the commitment to public safety, the commitment to community policing and the real-world experience as a chief of police in a vibrant, diverse, urban environment,” said Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan (at-large). “I think those are all wonderful signs for Oakland.”
Batts, who joined the Long Beach force in 1982, holds a doctorate in public administration and a master’s degree in business management from the University of Redlands.
What he saw growing up in his South Central Los Angeles neighborhood became inspiration for his career. He would sometimes ask his mother, “Does anybody really care that young people who look like me are losing their lives on these streets?
“My drive is to save some young kid’s life “… out there on the street,” he said. “My focus is going to be crime.”
Reach Kelly Rayburn at 510-208-6435.