OAKLAND -- Two years into his three-year contract, Oakland police Chief Anthony Batts announced Tuesday he is resigning.
Batts, 50, said an "overwhelming load of bureaucracy" and a lack of officers and resources to fight Oakland's severe crime problem contributed to his decision to leave a struggling department, which at the time he was hired had 796 officers, 150 more than it has now.
But sources close to the department say his tenuous relationship with Mayor Jean Quan and heat from a federal judge and police monitors -- who have threatened a federal takeover of the department over its incomplete, decade-long effort to reform -- also led to his decision.
Batts said he will leave by Nov. 15 to take a position at Harvard University, where he will do research and work on executive policymaking in police departments.
Oakland City Council President Larry Reid said Assistant Chief Howard Jordan will become interim chief as he did before Batts was hired. Reid said he is "almost certain" Jordan will land the job permanently.
Although Batts told rank-and-file officers he was resigning, he clarified later Tuesday that he is retiring.
In a brief interview with this newspaper, the most critical thing Batts said about his tenure was the lack of resources and enough officers "to get the job done. ... We can talk about tactics, but until you have the numbers, it is hard to get the job done."
In a City Hall news conference, Batts said part of the problem was an overwhelming load of bureaucracy.
"I came into this organization in October 2009 with my eyes wide open," he said. "I understood the challenges of a police department in the city of Oakland.
"But there is a layering of different things that brought me to this decision. I met with mentors, other chiefs of police, and asked their opinion of the position I'm in now. With that, and my family, we made a decision. It's time for me to take that step toward retirement."
Batts was hired away from Long Beach, where he had been police chief for seven years. Since then, budget cuts forced the layoffs of more than 100 officers, and attrition has taken even more of a bite out of the department. The city recently began rehiring officers, but the current number of 651 is still among the lowest in decades. Batts frequently said that Oakland needs at least 925 officers.
He also had asked for tools such as more gang injunctions and a curfew, but the Oakland City Council has not approved the requests.
Mayor Jean Quan, who joined Batts, City Administrator Deanna Santana and other city officials at an afternoon news conference, said that when she took office in January, she had asked Batts if he wanted to leave, saying she understood he had been hired by former Mayor Ron Dellums.
"At that point, he said no, he wanted to stay," Quan said. "But things here were not what he thought it was going to be. I appreciate he has other opportunities, but now we have to focus."
Quan said the city needed to keep working to meet the conditions of a settlement of a lawsuit stemming from the evidence-planting scandal involving a group officers known as the Riders several years ago.
One department source said it was natural that Batts and the mayor would not always see eye to eye. The source said the mayor "desires to be in the limelight, and so does the chief."
The source said both were extremely energetic with strong personalities and "the energy clashes were not going to work."
Batts told officers in an email that when he was hired in 2009, "I answered the call for a reform-minded chief; a leader with a focus on community policing and high professional standards. I was told Oakland residents were looking for a strong, visible leader to engage the community and reduce violent crime. My goal was to help rebuild a once proud, professional department geared toward crime reduction and community services."
But he said that recently had begun to change.
Now, he said, "rather than a chief managing a diverse department of law enforcement professionals making the streets of Oakland safe, I found myself with limited control, but full accountability."
He added, "The landscape has changed radically over the past two years with new and different challenges."
Councilmember Jane Brunner (North Oakland) said she was not surprised by the resignation, and that Batts had never let the council know how to prioritize the resources he asked for.
"We needed to know exactly what he needed," she said. "He communicated he needed everything," she added, but never offered a specific action plan that let the council know which specific resources were most important.
Santana announced the resignation in a letter to the City Council on Tuesday afternoon and said she regretted the chief's departure. "Chief Batts and I are in the process of settling on a departure date and, in the interim, I will be exploring my options on how to proceed."
Santana was on a hiring board in San Jose that turned down Batts for the top cop job in that city in January, before she became city administrator in Oakland this summer.
Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, said, "This comes as a shock and we wish him well."
He said Batts had called him earlier in the day to say he was retiring.
"I wished him well in his future endeavors," Arotzarena said. "I hope we can find a replacement that can handle the challenges facing the Oakland Police Department."
Reid, who said he had begged the chief to stay and had pleaded with him not to take leave when he was interviewing for the San Jose police chief job earlier this year, said he was done begging.
"I'm not mad at him," Reid said. "I understand. Elected officials need to stop micromanaging our law enforcement professionals."
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.