Batts, new Baltimore police chief pick, says he's committed

Anthony Batts answers questions after being named Baltimore police commissioner by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, left.

Baltimore's next police commissioner believes the drug trade is at the core of crime problems from car break-ins to gang killings. And it's an issue that Anthony W. Batts says he's seen up close.

"I have relatives who have had addiction problems, and they didn't solve those problems until they got into treatment," he said, referring to family in the Baltimore area. "Trying to stem those issues will stem some of the property crime issues and some of the violence. I think it's all connected."

The former Long Beach and Oakland, Calif. police chief, who was introduced Tuesday by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, told reporters that he will be a detail-oriented leader who wants to visit every corner in the city and "take responsibility for every life."

Batts stopped short of laying out a plan for the Police Department, saying he wants to take 90 days to conduct a thorough review of the agency and the city's culture to see how a perspective developed in a career spent on the West Coast will fit in here.

"I will get out of the office, I will ride with the police officers, I will go to every corner in the city to shake hands and listen and pay attention," Batts said at a news conference at City Hall. "I expect to have a well-disciplined, focused police department, a police organization that remembers that we serve our community and are clear that we are here to make their lives better."

Perhaps trying to quell concerns about being an outsider, Batts, dressed in a blue pinstripe suit with a Baltimore Police lapel pin, noted that he was born in Washington, D.C., and that "99 percent" of his family lives in the area. "To me, this is coming back home," he said.

After a day spent meeting city officials, Batts walked with Rawlings-Blake through West Baltimore's Bridgeview-Greenlawn neighborhood, where he spoke with residents and officers.

He jogged across the street to shake hands of women on porches, and nodded as residents like 33-year-old John Bullock described a problematic corner store in the neighborhood.

"Do you have a curfew in Baltimore?" asked Batts, who pushed a juvenile curfew in Oakland (Baltimore has a weekend curfew during the summer). At one point a car drove by and a woman yelled, "Welcome to Baltimore!"

"I'm hoping he's a quick thinker," resident Quianna Cooke said after the event. "Baltimore always thinks they have to go outside, and I can't change who was selected. But I choose to live here. I love my home, and I want it to stay that way."

Batts was selected from a small group of finalists, including Acting Commissioner Anthony Barksdale, a 19-year veteran of the agency who was being pushed by several members of the City Council. Rawlings-Blake said Batts brings a "fresh set of eyes" and described him as a "major force for good, for reform, and for results."

"I'm proud that someone of Chief Batts' caliber and experience sees his future and Baltimore's future as aligned," she said.

Batts won't begin until Sept. 27, and must be confirmed by the City Council. His contract calls for a salary of about $190,000, the same as his predecessor, and will go before the Board of Estimates for approval, city officials said.

Fraternal Order of Police president Bob Cherry said officers were optimistic that Batts would be a strong advocate for them with the mayor — a role in which he believes recently retired commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III fell short.

"It's not whether the top cop comes from the outside or the inside," he said. "It matters that we have a top cop who understands what it's like to be a cop."

Cherry said he admired the intellectual approach of Batts, who has a doctorate in public administration and lectured and did research at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government after stepping down from Oakland.

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun's editorial board, Batts said he created academic advisory panels with local universities in his previous jobs, and wants to do the same here. He also wants his command staff reading journals to know the latest trends in policing and crime.

Cherry recently read a paper Batts wrote that called for raising educational standards for new recruits — a change the FOP has advocated.

"We need some leadership at the top who will allow thinking to come from the bottom up," Cherry said. "We need more than ribbons and attaboys to reward us for doing our jobs well. We need to build a structure that rewards good behavior and good work."

Former Baltimore police commissioner Edward T. Norris, who came to the department in a high-ranking post after spending much of his career in New York, said he expected Batts to face some challenges because he did not emerge from the department's ranks.

"Anyone who has come from outside has had a rough go here," said Norris. "It's a kind of provincial place that doesn't take well to outsiders."

But, Norris said, Batts' experience in Oakland, a city that like Baltimore, is plagued by drugs and violent crime, would prove useful to him here.

He said Batts should promote top aides from within the ranks of existing officers.

After a 27-year career in Long Beach, Batts took over the Oakland Police Department in 2009. He scuffled with political leadership and was vocal in his frustration with cuts to the agency, and ultimately resigned.

"He got totally screwed in Oakland," said Geoff Collins, who served as president of the Oakland Police Foundation, which Batts revived to help raise money for the agency. "Oakland is one of the most dysfunctional political systems in the country, and … Tony got caught in the grinder. He's really excellent, and he'll be a great asset to your department."

Oakland City Council President Larry Reid said he agreed that Batts was handcuffed in Oakland with a lack of resources and little autonomy. Batts "understood [the challenges we face here]. He was accessible."

"The city of Baltimore is getting an incredible human being, who just so happens to be a police commissioner," Reid said.

But Batts was also criticized for spending time away from the agency and was derided as a "showboat" by officers, according to published reports. A monitor found that the agency was not making progress under an agreement stemming from a 2003 civil lawsuit over police misconduct, though his supporters said that process, too, had become political.

For his part, Batts said he joined Oakland — which he says he first dismissed as "too gritty" when approached about the job — because he saw a chance to "make things better."

"I grew up in South Central, with all the dysfunctionalities of drugs and crime that kids have to deal with," he said. "I asked my mother growing up, 'Does anybody care about kids who look like me?'"

He said he was brought in by then-Mayor Ron Dellums, who did not seek another term and was replaced by Jean Quan. They didn't see eye to eye. "Sometimes styles don't mix," Batts said.

Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said there are distinct differences between East Coast and West Coast policing that can be overcome but also pose challenges.

He said that Baltimore's police commissioner from 1994 to 1999, Thomas Frazier, came from San Jose and implemented a policy of rotating detectives among different units. That practice had worked in California, he said, but was strongly criticized here.

"There's a learning curve, but I think with someone as experienced as he is, and coming out of a city with enormous challenges, he's going to be smart about his next moves and recognize that what may have worked in Long Beach, what may have worked in Oakland, may not work in Baltimore," said Wexler, who was part of Rawlings-Blake's search committee.

William J. Bratton, the former chief of the New York and Los Angeles police departments, said Bealefeld's departure amid significant crime declines in Baltimore raised questions among outsiders about whether City Hall is difficult to work with.

"Tony Batts is one of the best there is in American policing today," Bratton said. "Tony is best left alone. Tell him what you want, what your goals are, and he'll get you there. I hope based on recent experiences in Baltimore that your mayor is smart enough to realize she's picked one of the best, who will share her vision, and leave him to it."

Rawlings-Blake said Batts will be allowed to run the department as he sees fit.

"I'm not here to do his job," she said. "If I have anyone in my cabinet who I have to do my job and theirs, I don't need them."

Batts is a divorced father of three. He said he was distracted at Tuesday's news conference because one of his daughters is in Biloxi, Miss., where Hurricane Isaac bears down on the Gulf Coast. His ex-wife is U.S. Rep. Laura Richardson, a California Democrat.

Batts said he drove around Baltimore during the search process, quizzing residents and police officers about the city, crime, and government. In Southeast Baltimore, he said he spoke to women pushing strollers who said the rowdy bar crowds were their biggest concern.

Further north, he said, he approached two men standing in the street and saw them exchange "red things in balloons."

"They were doing a dope deal right in front of me," he said. "When they're doing that in broad daylight, that's something we're going to have to address as a city."

His interactions with officers were mixed too. He said one officer was "the nicest guy in the world," while he didn't like how another spoke to him. "Part of what I have to do is set that standard of what I expect," he said, saying he wants a "professional and constitutional" police department.

But he didn't offer much insight into the city's crime situation. He spoke of reading about the number of gang members, and being told that heroin and pharmaceutical drugs are the biggest problems in the city.

Batts said he will seek detailed information on the city's criminals and demand accountability from police leaders, who he said will be asked to re-apply for their jobs. "I'm down to the nth degree," he said.

"I want the names of the people, their families, their histories, who's in conflict, who's in agreement, who's bringing in the heroin," he said. "That is our craft, that is our job, that is my expectation."

Baltimore Sun reporters Julie Scharper and Erica L. Green contributed to this article.