The recent news about Chief Batts’ interest in leaving Oakland for San Jose has brought welcome attention to the currently dire situation of police staffing, or lack thereof. Initially, it was just speculation about why he threw his hat in the ring, but more recently, he confirmed that he may not be interested in staying in Oakland unless City officials show the necessary commitment to staff the police department adequately and provide other necessary resources.
Oakland officials’ response to all of this has been typical. Jean Quan initially was quoted by various news sources as saying the equivalent of “don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out” and that she’d like to be able to choose her own person. Well, with police staffing at 600 officers, half-functioning police cars and malfunctioning radios, good luck finding somebody better than Batts. Then Jane Brunner and others criticized Batts for not getting involved in police negotiations and trying to pass the parcel tax. Well, first of all, I doubt he was ever invited to the bargaining table. Moreover, I think he has more than enough on his plate as it is. Public officials are not allowed to use City time or resources to do campaigning - it’s illegal. So when exactly was he supposed to have the free time to do this?
The most recent announcement by Quan that she intends to hire back 10 officers who were laid off last summer is nothing more than a gimmick, a ruse to make the press and other naïve Oaklanders think the City is actually committed to public safety and getting staffing back up. And something to point to in case he still decides to leave. So they can say about the doctor trying to operate on the patient “I don’t understand why he quit, we gave him a butter knife!”
With attrition at around 5 officers per month (and it has been higher recently), the offer is an insult. It is a band-aid on a gaping wound. . In January alone, the homicide rate has nearly tripled. The supposed promise offer certainly shouldn’t be enough to get Batts to commit to staying. For the first time, we’ve actually got somebody with some negotiating power who is basically saying, “You people know that there are people dying out there, being mugged and raped and robbed, and you are not committing to helping them. And I’m calling you on it. And unless you give me the resources I need to actually tackle this problem, I’m going to walk right on out of here, and everybody’s going to know why: because you incompetent and uncommitted bozos aren’t doing your jobs.” Pretty bad publicity, huh?
A promise to rehire 10 officers (who knows when) (and fixing some police radios) should not be enough to get him to stay. He should demand that the City commit, in writing, to a specific staffing level, with regular academies to maintain that staffing level. Otherwise, it can hardly be called a plan, or a strategy, or a commitment. Rather, it is only a diversion, a gimmick, a bone being thrown. And Batts should be smart enough to know that’s exactly what it is.
But of course, I know what’s coming. Another parcel tax proposal. And this time, City officials are going to tell Batts, you want your resources, you need to get out there and extort some more cash from all those past and future burglary and robbery victims. Needless to say, I‘d be unlikely to support that. (Somehow, I don‘t the think the proposal will be for full staffing at 803, guaranteed, for only an additional $50.00, to last only two or three years). But I’ll save my rant on that subject until I see the inevitable proposal that I know will be coming in the next couple of months. In the meantime, I hope Batts gets the City to commit, in writing, to whatever staffing level he thinks he needs, parcel tax or no parcel tax.