OAKLAND -- News of police Chief Anthony Batts' possible departure to San Jose shocked city leaders and forced Mayor Jean Quan to create a contingency plan in case the department loses him suddenly.
Batts, just over a year into a three-year contract with Oakland, has acknowledged he is one of two finalists for the chief's job in San Jose, a larger, more affluent city with a department almost twice as big as Oakland's and a less-notorious crime problem. San Jose officials are expected to make a choice in February.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said Monday she'd gone to Batts after she was elected in November and asked if he planned to stay on.
"I told him I understood if he didn't want to, since he came in for (former Mayor Ron) Dellums, but he said he planned to stay," Quan said. But in a private phone call with her Friday, Quan said Batts revealed he'd been recruited as a candidate in October.
"I wish he'd told me sooner," Quan said. She added that she felt Batts has done the job "decently" and that he's been "very good with the community." His departure, if it happens, would be "disruptive," she said.
But, "people need to want to be in a job," she said. Because Oakland is a mid-size city, many career-oriented people have used work here as a launchpad before moving to a big city, she said, and Batts' contract "is very loose. He can leave if he wants. I want a chief who will be committed for at least two or three years, so we can make some real systemic changes."
Quan, who will be in Washington, D.C., for several days this week and next week, has already set a plan in place to immediately appoint an interim chief if Batts leaves, she said. She declined to name her pick.
Assistant Chief Howard Jordan served as acting chief for several months before Batts arrived in Oakland, and Quan said Jordan was among the finalists in a rich pool of candidates when Batts was chosen.
"As mayors go, it's a blessing to have the opportunity to choose your own team," Quan said.
If she finds herself in the market for a new chief, she'll be looking nationwide for someone who knows that "we have to make community policing real" and work to finally complete the reforms the department agreed to in settling the Riders corruption case in 2003.
Oakland City Council President Larry Reid said he had two clear reactions to the news: he was angry, and he wanted Batts to stay.
"I was mad when I found out," Reid said, and his colleagues on the council were "just as shocked as I was."
In a brief speech to 150 residents at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally Monday -- a speech given shortly before the keynote speaker, Batts himself, took the stage -- Reid urged Batts to stay.
"I want to remind the chief of all the things he told me he would like Oakland to be, when he came here," Reid said. "That he wanted to make this a safer place for young, African-American men, to no longer lose so many young people to violence. I'd like to remind the chief of what he said to me, and what he said to my community."
In an interview, however, Reid said, "I know that he's frustrated by the decline in officers."
Batts has said several times that the department needs more than 900 officers to effectively police the city. The July layoff of 80 officers left the force with fewer than 700.
"Morale is low within OPD, I understand," Reid said. "But him leaving will make that morale go even lower."
Though the layoffs have been widely speculated to be a breaking point when he started looking for a way out, Batts spoke carefully Monday.
"It's presumptuous to talk about something that hasn't occurred," he said. He praised his "wonderful bosses" in Oakland who "have done the best they can."
"I can't ask for more," Batts said.
At the beginning of his speech, which received a standing ovation from the crowd, Batts spoke of making political allies in Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, both powerful figures in East Bay politics, and said of Quan, "the more I meet with her, the more I like her."
Community leaders had some mixed reactions Monday.
"I'm definitely stunned by all this," said the Rev. Jayson Landeza, Oakland police chaplain. "Of course it's not a done deal, but it's disappointing if Chief Batts leaves. He was doing so much outreach, meeting with community leaders and religious leaders. That kind of effort hadn't been seen in a while."
Landeza added, "Some officers are not surprised that he'd want to move on, given what's been going on in the department the last few months, not getting the support needed to make reforms. His hands have been tied because of the budget. At the same time, some officers are wondering, why the hasty move?"
"I'm really disappointed," said Don Link, chair of the Shattuck Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council and former chair of the community policing advisory board. "He came in with such great promise. And to be leaving so quickly before he could really get his heels into it and start the change is really a shame "... I can see how, for someone as ambitious and energetic as Chief Batts, to see your force dissolving before your eyes, that has to be a disappointment. But we need someone, and now we'll basically start again."
Staff writer Angela Hill contributed to this report. Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.