OAKLAND -- Police Chief Anthony Batts might be sticking around, but only if things begin to dramatically change for his department, he said Thursday.
Batts did not get the police chief job in San Jose for which he had been one of two finalists. He hasn't applied anywhere else, he said, but he refused to commit to Oakland for the long haul unless he sees the city do the same.
"This police department is underfunded and is in need of the very basics to get the job done," Batts said. He had not spoken up until now, he said, because "the decisions were being made by my bosses."
Asking to be quoted as Anthony Batts -- rather than as the chief of police -- Batts said the July layoffs of 80 officers were "a horrendous decision," adding, "The police department cannot be seen as a pariah, with no support, sitting out there by itself."
News broke of his candidacy in San Jose last week, prompting a whirlwind of public concern over the potential departure of perhaps the city's most widely liked government leader.
Acting San Jose police Chief Chris Moore was chosen for the South Bay job despite widespread rumors that City Manager Debra Figone wanted someone from the outside to take over the department, which has been racked by low morale and has been under fire for aggressive tactics and racial profiling. Figone did not comment Thursday on how she made her decision, but Batts praised Moore, whom he called a good friend.
As to his future, Batts said in a news release, "I have not made a final decision as to my future with this agency. It still needs to be determined if I am a fit for the city of Oakland's vision for the future." In an interview, he added, "I work my butt off. Unless there's support on all sides, there's no need for me to be here."
The news of Batts' potential exit sparked anger from residents who felt he would be abandoning his work in Oakland. Numerous community and city leaders, however, rushed to his defense, saying the city had not given him enough tools with which to do the job.
In addition to managing a department with malfunctioning police radios, worn-down patrol cars and broken computers, Batts is only working with 656 officers, down almost 20 percent from the force's numbers when he took the job in October 2009.
Attrition has been high as officers retired or transferred to other cities and there are no police academies scheduled to reinforce the ranks.
Batts issued his challenge not just to City Hall, but to the community. He called on his own command staff, as well, saying, "When they laid off the 80 officers, the organization laid down. I'm challenging my command staff to pick it back up."
Though sticking around after word broke he was seeking work elsewhere could create awkwardness, Batts said, his relationship with Mayor Jean Quan "has already gotten better. This has had an impact in a positive way, and opened up honest communications between she and I."
Quan issued a statement Thursday afternoon, saying, "Since I became mayor, Chief Batts and I have talked on a nearly daily basis to work together to protect officer and citizen safety in Oakland. I appreciate
Community leaders had mixed reactions after hearing Batts was not selected for the San Jose job.
"I'm glad he's not going. I'm glad he did not get the job," said Aeeshah Clottey, director of special programs for the Attitudinal Healing Connection in West Oakland. "As far as I am concerned, he has been working hard and as long as he is doing the job that is good."
John Burris, a civil rights attorney who negotiated a federal settlement with the city and Police Department as a result of the department's Riders brutality case, said having Batts remain in charge can only help the agreement.
"In the short term, it's good for the city that he is here," Burris said. "There are a lot of things he started and this would not have been a good time for a changing of the guard."
But Don Link, leader of the Shattuck Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council, said he does not believe Batts can muster the power to reform a Police Department in need of a strong leader.
"From my point of view, he has lost credibility," Link said. "Anytime somebody is headed toward the door, they are basically gone at that point."
At this point, Link said, he would rather have Batts announce his resignation so the city can begin, again, the search for a new chief.
"It's probably better that it be sooner than later for the city and for the Police Department," Link said. "Most people, at this point, will probably assume that he is a short-timer."
Councilmember Pat Kernighan (Chinatown-Lake Merritt), who leads the public safety committee, said she met with Batts last week "and asked him what we could do that would help convince him to stay."
"He said he's really concerned about the dropping number of police officers, and the antiquated equipment they have to work with," Kernighan said.
As to his possibly staying on the job, "I couldn't be happier," she said. "Oakland needs Tony Batts. "... I think he's one of the few people that has the talents to both run the PD and to help the community and the police bridge some of the gaps of trust that exist in certain neighborhoods."
Council President Larry Reid said he has received more than 100 calls from members of the community asking him to do whatever it takes to persuade Batts to stay.
"The residents of the city would welcome him back with open arms," Reid said. But when it comes to the department's needs, Reid said, "we need to hear it from him. He's there every day, and he understands the issues, and those issues need to be communicated to those of us on the council. Then we've got to figure out a way and make the tough decisions, to find resources for them to do their job."
The news of Batts' candidacy also saw some officers admit they felt he hadn't supported them enough. It helped that he came out swinging for them in Thursday's announcement, but it could remain awkward to lead a team that knows he was considering leaving.
"It's kind of awkward, but it's kind of not," said Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association. "Guys apply for jobs all the time. His job's just a little more high-profile. The bottom line is: He's a professional. He's got a job to do and he's going to do his job."
That said, "I think he truly has to make up with some people, and tell the membership that his heart is in the job," Arotzarena said. "I think he can do that. And like always, we in the union are always ready to sit down and work with him. We want to get this show on the road. Let's fix those radios."
Bay Area News Group staff writer Sean Webby contributed to this report.