Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has selected former Oakland, Calif., Police Chief Anthony Batts as Baltimore's next police commissioner, bringing in a leader who has been hailed as an innovator but who struggled to push his agenda at his last job.
Batts, 52, spent nearly 30 years with the Long Beach, Calif., Police Department — including seven as chief — before taking over the Oakland force in 2009. He resigned in October 2011 after butting heads with the mayor and City Council. He did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Appearing at a schools event at Port Discovery on Monday morning, the mayor declined to comment on the decision, which she later confirmed after it was reported online by The Baltimore Sun. He'll start Sept. 27 and must be confirmed by the City Council.
Batts grew up in south-central Los Angeles. Billed by supporters as a "change agent" who drove down crime to decades-record lows in Long Beach, Batts had a messy split in Oakland, where he said in a resignation letter that he "found myself with limited control but full accountability" and came under fire for failing to advance court-ordered reforms.
He left weeks before the department made national news during a clash with protesters from the Occupy movement, which set up camps in various cities to protest social and economic inequality.
Lt. Steve James of the Long Beach Police Officers Association said people there were sorry to see Batts leave for Oakland. "He was very well-liked here," James said. "He's a very smart guy, very open-minded and community-oriented. He helped move us forward in a lot of areas."
Scott Bryant, a Virginia-based consultant who worked with Batts in Long Beach and Oakland, said he's "truly an inspirational leader."
"He's exceptional at speaking in front of his troops and in front of the community, and painting a vision in a very honest, straightforward and clear way," Bryant said. He said Batts is also "results- and outcome-oriented."
Among his accomplishments, Batts lists a doctorate in public administration, a master's in business and a bachelor's degree in law enforcement administration. After his Oakland tenure, he did research at Harvard University.
With the selection, Rawlings-Blake passes over acting Commissioner Anthony Barksdale, a 19-year veteran who served as the second-in-command to Frederick H. Bealefeld III for five years. During that time, the city saw steep declines in its homicide and gun violence rates, to the lowest levels since the late 1980s.
Barksdale, a Baltimore native, had managed the department since Bealefeld retired in late June, and said he wanted the job. He declined to comment Monday.
Rawlings-Blake had named a search committee to help look for Bealefeld's successor.
Members of the Baltimore City Council had urged Rawlings-Blake to make a local hire, pointing to the recent crime declines and saying such a move would offer stability. Between 1994 and 2004, the city had four commissioners, only one of whom was from Baltimore.
Robert F. Cherry, the president of the city police union, declined to comment until the announcement was official.
It's common for departments to experience turnover among top commanders when new leadership takes over, and some in the department worried about the hire's effect on morale.
"I've already heard from some people in the department that they're disappointed because they wanted to see one of their own take control," said City Councilman Brandon M. Scott of Northeast Baltimore. "I think you may have some people retire. You can only wait and see what happens."
City Councilman Robert W. Curran, who also represents parts of Northeast Baltimore, expressed concern about bringing in a new chief from outside the department.
"They're not going to be able to hit the ground running," he said. "It doesn't matter if he's from Oakland or Oklahoma, he's not going to be able to understand the situation up here in the Northeast."
In Baltimore, Batts will oversee a force of 3,000 officers, more than three times the size of the largest number of officers he has commanded.
Batts began his law enforcement career as an Explorer Scout with the Los Angeles Police Department, became a police cadet with the Santa Monica Police Department, and served as a reserve officer with the Hawthorne Police Department. He was hired by Long Beach as a community relations assistant and later accepted into the police academy in 1982.
Batts' rise through the ranks in Long Beach was quick: he was the youngest person ever promoted to the rank of commander, the youngest deputy chief and, in 2002, the youngest chief in Long Beach's history, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
"To those who would shoot, beat, stab and take advantage of the weak, a message: We're coming,'" Batts reportedly said at his swearing in.
In Long Beach, a port city of about 460,000 people located 27 miles south of Los Angeles, he "led the department through a pretty tumultuous time, where he had to establish our priorities a bit better, and through some reorganization we were able to accomplish that," said James, of the officers' association.
In Oakland, a city of about 395,000 people, Batts was hired in 2009 by then-mayor Ron Dellums to oversee a force of about 800 officers, which dwindled by 200 during his tenure because of budget cuts, according to news reports. In 2010, Oakland saw 95 homicides, a five-year low that increased the following year along with overall violent crime and property crime.
While there, he pushed a juvenile curfew and "gang injunctions," civil court orders that would have limited the movements of named gang members in a designated "safety zone." Such injunctions are used in several California cities and were upheld by that state's Supreme Court in 1997.
But he often battled the City Council and the new mayor, Jean Quan, who was trying to get rid of Batts before he decided to resign, according to the Bay Citizen news organization. Reports surfaced in January 2011 that he was seeking the top job in San Jose, Calif., and he cited the lack of resources and micromanaging by members of the Oakland City Council.
"No chief wants to be in a position where he or she is being held accountable but doesn't have the power to make a dramatic impact," Batts reportedly said in a news conference after submitting his resignation.
After stepping down, he publicly criticized Quan's crime prevention plans in media interviews, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that a plan to increase policing in 100 city blocks was a "political reaction" that wasn't possible given the department's resources. Attempts to reach Quan and other Oakland officials were unsuccessful.
Barry Donelan, the president of the Oakland Police Foundation, said he did not want to comment on Batts' leadership. "He was here from certain dates … then he left. That's about it," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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