OAKLAND -- Police Chief Anthony Batts, just a little more than a year into his three-year contract with the city of Oakland, is one of two finalists for the top cop job in San Jose, sources said Sunday.
Oakland Police Department spokeswoman Holly Joshi confirmed that Batts is in line to be San Jose's chief. Also in the running for the job is San Jose's acting police chief, Chris Moore; San Jose's city manager is expected to make a decision in the next few weeks.
"Last week Chief Batts informed me that he had agreed to become a candidate for the San Jose Chief's position in October and that he was now a finalist "...," Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said in a statement. "Should Chief Batts be chosen and decide to leave, I will immediately appoint an interim Chief and conduct a national search for a new Chief.
"I have been working with the Chief and top command staff over the last two weeks and am confident that we will continue the reforms within the Oakland Police Department and will continue to make getting new resources for community policing a priority whatever the outcome."
Though crime went down in the city in 2010, and Batts has had a generally warm public reception, it's been a difficult time to head the department.
Eighty officers were laid off in July, temporarily killing a community policing program and leaving a strained force of fewer than 700 officers struggling to maintain standards.
Quan announced on her first day in office that she hopes to reopen contract negotiations with the police, seeking a 9 percent contribution from officers toward their pensions. In September a judge threatened the department with sanctions and a takeover by the federal government, citing disappointment by the department's progress in making reforms agreed to in a corruption case eight years ago. The trial of former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who shot and killed unarmed, restrained train passenger Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale station two years ago, prompted two massive downtown protests that erupted into violence.
Policing in San Jose hasn't been simple lately, either. Two months ago, longtime Chief Rob Davis left a 1,250-officer department demoralized and depleted with budget cuts, with more reductions on the horizon. The department in recent years has faced accusations of overaggressive street policing and racial profiling.
Batts did not return phone calls Sunday, but he did call Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, to confirm the news, Arotzarena said. He said the chief's decision to look for other options was not shocking.
"I think he feels defeated here in Oakland," Arotzarena said. "You try to do everything you can, and it's never good enough. I think a lot of people don't understand what a tough job it is to work in this town and under the circumstances."
If Batts is eventually chosen and takes the San Jose job, he would become that city's first African-American chief at a time when the department is struggling with rebuilding trust and credibility among many in San Jose's ethnic communities.
He was sworn into office in Oakland in October 2009 after serving seven years as police chief in Long Beach. He had been on a panel of law enforcement veterans helping Oakland in the search for candidates; at some point, he decided to enter his own name as well, City Administrator Dan Lindheim said.
Including some premiums, Batts makes about $255,000 a year in Oakland -- quite a bit more than his predecessors, and more than the San Jose chief has traditionally made -- and has a three-year contract, Lindheim said, though he is free to leave if he chooses.
"There's no way you can make somebody stay," he said. "There's no buyout provision that if he left early he would owe us money."
However, Lindheim emphasized, "One, he doesn't have the job yet, and two, even if he's offered it, I don't know if he's going to accept it."
Assistant Chief Howard Jordan, who served as acting chief for several months before Batts took the office, said Sunday the news took him completely by surprise.
"I had no idea he'd even applied," Jordan said.
Though it has been a difficult time for the department, he added, "The chief is not going to whine and complain about it. He's going to make the most of the hand he's dealt."
Bay Area News Group writer Sean Webby contributed to this report.