But there were also questions about his commitment. According to an article published in the East Bay Express after he left, Batts had often left early on Fridays for three-day weekends back in Long Beach.
Batts now says that he often worked from 9 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday and decided Friday afternoons were a good time to get away. He said he did go back to Long Beach on occasion — he says his father was ill — but also was frequently involved in weekend events in Oakland, including sitting in church pews and checking deployments outside Raiders football games.
East Coast challenge
It's the middle of the afternoon on a recent Thursday, and an elderly woman is hobbling down an Oakland street, stepping out into traffic without shoes on to confirm word that her 33-year-old grandson, Anthony Green, has been fatally shot in her home. Relatives rush over to help her the rest of the way as she demands information from behind police lines.
"Relax, Granny!" her son yells. "You know your heart ain't good!"
Two more will be killed within 24 hours. It's another day in Oakland, where homicides have actually risen since the late 1990s. As more than a dozen officers stand inside the crime scene tape, a police technician — a white, middle-aged woman — observes how upset the family is and hugs and consoles one of the relatives.
Amir Hasan, a 43-year-old who was friends with Green, said there's not much police can do about the violence. "It's going to take parents and society in general to hold each other to higher standards," he says.
Batts, meanwhile, is preparing to start over as the top cop in another crime-plagued city. He had been doing research with Harvard University and was set to begin teaching a course in the fall when he was first approached about whether he was interested in taking over the Sanford, Fla., Police Department in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin.
The opening in Baltimore came up amid those discussions.
"To be perfectly honest, I've been out of police work for a year. I miss the uniform, I miss the camaraderie, I miss the job, I miss what I've been doing since I was 14 years old," Batts said. "It feels extremely good to be back in it."
Batts has an eight-year contract in Baltimore that will pay him a salary of $190,000. It's a pay cut from his job in Oakland, where he took in about $250,000 a year. The City Council is expected to hold confirmation hearings for Batts next month.
In choosing him, Rawlings-Blake passed over internal candidates, including the agency's second-in-command for the past five years, Anthony Barksdale, as well as at least one other outside candidate. She said she was "looking for the best" and that Batts had a record of "reform and results."
Here, Batts' first steps have been reminiscent of his approach in past stops. His opening remarks at Baltimore City Hall included a line similar to the one he uttered the day he took the reins in Long Beach.
"To those that would hurt, to those who would beat, to those who would rob and cause pain to the weak, we're coming."
And as in Oakland, he visited the city on his own and drove through neighborhoods such as Bridgeview/Greenlawn and Federal Hill to talk to residents. Here, he said he witnessed a drug deal between two men who passed a "red balloon full of drugs."
The balloon observation was greeted with skepticism by some Baltimore cops, who say they're unfamiliar with drugs being sold that way.
Two Federal Hill residents who attended Batts' Citizens on Patrol walk are Oakland transplants and remember his tenure there. "Oakland's a tough city, probably tougher than Baltimore," says Joe Halperin. "We liked his approach. We thought he had terrific ideas."
Before taking in the sweeping view from Federal Hill park, Batts tells the crowd that he's impressed with the neighborhood. He says he might consider living there, eliciting cheers.