This guest post was written by Gregory McConnell, President and CEO of the Jobs and Housing Coalition, which represents major businesses in Oakland.
Police Chief Anthony Batts came to Oakland with the promise that he would have the resources to do the job. Instead of beefing up the department, it has been cannibalized. We have gone from 803 cops to 656 with more losses predicted because of attrition. The city has no plans to recruit new cops. Now it looks like Batts may want to leave.
The community is saddened by this news. The Mayor expresses disappointment, but also says this may be a blessing because she could then appoint her own person. This issue, no matter whom you support, is very divisive, so I want to look at it with less vitriol and greater emphasis on what is really at stake.
The Chief applied for the SJ position in October. It could have been that the Chief was merely throwing his hat into the ring to gauge his professional appeal. Once the newly elected Mayor named Dan Siegel, a major cop critic, as a Chief Adviser, Batts may have looked at the decision and the resource problems and decided that he would consider leaving if offered the job. That is when he made it known that he is considering greener pastures.
Or, could it be that he really does not want to leave. His sudden announcement may be a ploy to register his great displeasure with a variety of decisions including layoffs, inadequate community support, and primarily to focus attention on understaffing. If this is his intention, he has played this masterfully.
The stakes for Oakland are very high. We lost 500 Clorox employees to Pleasanton and while the company publicly talks about better resource deployment, we all know that the crime problems at 13th and Broadway and throughout the city had to play a role in the decision. ABAG and MTC are threatening to leave the city and take thousands of employees to other locales. A crime dilemma won’t help those of us trying to persuade them to stay. Ten thousand residents were attracted to the city with the 10K plan, spawning new restaurants, entertainment venues, and jobs. These people thought Oakland would get better. What happens if they start believing otherwise?
Much of the current attention is focused on Batts because he has been seen as a man with a real commitment to solving Oakland’s problems. His possible loss is a real blow to our collective hopes for improvement of the city. Nevertheless, we must face reality, whether he stays or leaves, without major changes, we will have the ongoing problems of unrelenting crime, an understaffed police department, low moral, and a city that has no real plans to make things better.
I admire and respect Chief Batts. I hope the city finds a way to keep him here. With the proper tools and resources, he is capable of leading us out of this nightmare of unrelenting crime. On the other hand, even if we are successful at getting him to stay, if we don’t get him resources and clear community support, we will continue to be mired in the problems that have afflicted this city for decades.
Mayor Quan may see the opportunity to appoint her own chief as a blessing. But I predict that anyone who tries to police Oakland with 656 cops will fail. The problem is too big for one person. The community must rally behind a strong leader. We already have one, let’s support him and do our best to keep him here.