OAKLAND — Police Chief Anthony Batts said Thursday that after a month on the job he has concluded the department is "broken," and he outlined plans to streamline the organization's focus as it deals with thinly stretched resources.
Batts, who joined the department Oct. 19, said he has developed strong respect for the officers and employees under his command. But he added that he believes the workload is "almost double" what a department the size of Oakland's should be expected to handle.
"What I have found in the police organization, honestly, from my perspective, is that the police organization is broken," he said. "The demand on this Police Department is greater than the resources and capabilities to keep up with it."
Batts offered his comments in a meeting with this newspaper's editorial board. He said he's gone on ride-alongs with Oakland police officers who go "from call to call to call" without time for proactive police work.
The department is "not broken because of the employees," he said. "It's broken because of the systems set to address the work level."
The chief's assessment that the high level of emergency calls strips officers of the time they need for community-oriented policing is not new in Oakland. In fact, despite a drop to 789 officers now from 837 at this point last year, the department is operating with more officers than it did for years before 2008.
Strapped for cash
With the city's budget in dire shape, there appears to be no chance that police resources will increase dramatically at any point in the near future. Oakland faces an $18.9 million budget deficit, $3 million of which is attributed to projected overspending by the Police Department. Officials have discussed drastic measures to fill the gap, including selling city assets such as the George P. Scotlan Convention Center or the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center.
City staffers also have floated the idea of going to voters next spring to ask for tax increases, including a possible new public safety parcel tax to help Oakland maintain police and fire staffing levels.
But Council members already have questioned whether the time is right to ask voters to dip into their pockets. Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale), who hosted Batts on Thursday at one of his bimonthly "movers and shakers" breakfast meetings with Oakland business leaders, said he will not support that kind of measure or other tax-increasing proposals.
"Absolutely not," he said. "Not only because of the economy. I've been saying this for several years: I'm not convinced that we are doing a good enough job managing the resources we have."
De La Fuente said that when he joined the council in the early 1990s, the police force had about 640 officers, and he hopes Batts will be successful with the resources he has.
"One of the reasons I supported his hiring is his background and expertise in public management," De La Fuente said. "He has a (doctorate) in public administration. He has a reputation of being a good administrator. "... So we'll see."
For Batts, the goal is not to do more with less but rather to focus the attention on the department on a handful of priorities deemed of the highest importance by people in Oakland.
He said police have been in contact with San Jose State to survey city residents. Come January the department will have a draft plan of what areas are of highest priority to the community and then will work on how the police can work to meet those demands, said Scott Bryant, a Virginia-based consultant working with Batts.
"What's important about our approach is we're developing a community-based strategic plan," Bryant said. "It's not just an internal strategic plan for the Police Department."
Reach Kelly Rayburn at 510-208-6435.