SHOCK. DISAPPOINTMENT. Anger.
Those are the feelings being expressed by many in Oakland upon learning that Police Chief Anthony Batts, who has been on the job a little more than a year, has applied for the chief's opening in San Jose.
Batts confirmed Monday that he is one of two finalists. San Jose City officials expect to choose between him and in-house candidate, acting Chief Chris Moore, by February. If Batts is offered the job and accepts, Mayor Jean Quan will have to search for a replacement just weeks after being sworn into office.
We are very dismayed that Batts would even consider leaving Oakland after serving out just one-third of his three-year contract. True, nothing in the contract would prevent him from quitting. Yet this is not a question of legality, but of doing what is right. Batts, who was sworn in on Oct. 20, 2009, made a three-year commitment to the city when then-Mayor Ron Dellums hired him. The moral thing for him to do is to honor that pledge.
At the outset, Batts stated in very public fashion that assuming the helm of Oakland's troubled Police Department was not just a job for him. It was a mission.
Batts, who was then Long Beach police chief, said he felt called to apply for the Oakland vacancy after attending the funerals for four police officers shot and killed in March 2009. He said he wanted to employ methods that had been successful in Long Beach to help
He proposed a plan for reorganizing the dysfunctional Police Department and rebuilding the morale of officers who felt overworked and underappreciated. Batts further pledged to improve the strained relations between police and residents in poorer African-American neighborhoods plagued by violent street crime. Four months into the post, Batts unveiled a plan for attacking out-of-control crime. He held meetings across the city to encourage community buy-in. He visited with this newspaper's editorial board and laid out his impressive vision for transforming the Police Department and suppressing violent crime.
Batts inspired Oakland residents, city officials, and business and community leaders alike with his intellect, energy and ambition. Despite the city's financial challenges, he asserted that Oakland could still make substantive reductions in violent crime. Indeed, the number of homicides and other violent crimes, though still unacceptable, have been declining.
Now, six months after the deployment of Batts much-vaunted strategic plan, he is apparently looking for the exit. Many of those who have a stake in the city's well-being feel betrayed -- and for good reason. Quan and City Council President Larry Reid say Batts assured them in November that he had no interest in leaving Oakland. Yet Batts now says San Jose first contacted him back in October. The appropriate response would have been to decline gracefully.
Instead, Batts chose to string Oakland along while he waits to hear from San Jose. It's a decision that, in our view, lacks integrity.
We realize that Batts has had a trying year. He did not count on his force dwindling from almost 800 officers to 657. We can understand his frustration. Oakland has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the country. The force is stretched thin. Yet a truly inspired leader -- as we had believed Batts to be -- rises to a challenge. He does not quit in the face of adversity.
Batts' departure would create a major disruption for a city that already faces enormous challenges. We'd like to remind him of the commitment he made to Oakland and urge him to abort his efforts to seek employment elsewhere.