Thank You, Chief Batts
(September 18, 2003) -- We cannot stress strongly enough the significance -- on multiple levels -- of what occurred in the City Council chamber on the afternoon of September 16.
LB Police Chief Anthony Batts refused to act as a human shield for Councilmembers.
In a presentation simultaneously respectful but unflinching from the facts, he told the nine elected people who decide how many police LB has that LB needs 130 more officers.
Chief Batts did the public a real service by going where the truth leads no matter whose toes it steps on. What he did was so important in so many ways that we feel compelled to point them out below.
What Chief Batts did could not have happened without City Manager Jerry Miller believing the public has a right to hear unvarnished facts on public safety. Thank you, Mr. Miller.
In a similarly significant action, management's facts were backed by the Department's officer-employee rep. LB Police Officers Association President Steve James told the Council, "Plain and simple, you have a Chief that finally came down here and finally told you the truth." Thank you, Mr. James, whose plain speaking is consistent with the position he took in February 2002 when he advised the Council to start adding officers and stop making excuses.
At that time, Council incumbents (approaching April/June 2002 city elections for Mayor and others) listened politely and deferred the issue to the 2003 budget year. They are the ones responsible for perpetuating the police deficit LB now faces entering FY 2004.
That may explain why some of the same Council incumbents put public safety last -- dead last -- in the recently concluded budget process. Councilmembers (not management) relegated budget discussion by LBPD and LBFD to the last two items on the last low profile afternoon of the last budget workshop preceding the Council's largely rubberstamp budget vote.
(We're told public safety was scheduled for discussion on Sept. 9, well over three weeks after the budget was publicly released. Councilmembers delayed it even further to Sept. 16 -- a month after the budget was released and the date of the budget vote -- because a Councilmember who wanted to hear the public safety presentations was attending a CA League of Cities meeting. His absence on city business is not the issue. Public safety is the Council's most important priority. It belonged first, in late August or Sept. 2 at the latest, not the day of budget vote.)
Perhaps LB's lawmakers didn't expect Police Chief Batts would have much to say. After all, other Police Chiefs had come to the Council podium and silently acquiesced in giving LB taxpayers a thinner blue line than what a City Auditor-City Management devised Police "Strategic Plan" recommended in 1994: 1,024 officers...by FY 2000.
They may not have read LBReport.com's detailed account of what Chief Batts said shortly after taking office in fall 2002, when he invited LB media reps to an unusual briefing. Speaking extemporaneously to a room full of reporters for nearly ninety minutes, the Chief explained what he planned to do. When pressed on what he'd recommend to the Council for police levels, he said (our paraphrase) he'd first deal with required cuts to non-sworn staff, then independently assess what sworn levels were needed, then tell the Council the truth.
Chief Batts' position was straightforward: the Council sets policy and decides citywide spending priorities. He'd tell Councilmembers what's needed and the decision on whether (in his words) to budget "a Porsche" or "a Volkswagen" would be up to them.
The Chief declined to be bound by rigid formulas (officers per thousand, still our favorite) or past plans (previously ignored). We thought at the time that Chief Batts' position -- he reports, the Council decides -- was just fine...if he could keep to what he promised.
The entire city can now see that Chief Batts did exactly what he said he'd do.
He cut Department spending on non-sworn positions by over 11%. We don't know how many other non-sworn city departments can say that. The Council directed Batts to end up with net Departmental reductions without touching sworn positions (although sworn costs are about 2/3 of the Departmental budget)...and he did.
Then he ascertained what sworn levels were needed...and itemized it publicly for the public and the Council:
By our command staff estimates, we're down 90 officers in patrol calls for service, 10 detectives, and we need another 30 officers for new walking and bike beats in our most crime prone neighborhoods and in our growing downtown residential and entertainment center. That's a total of 130 officers, to date, this moment, right now.
And he went further. He cited some of the major reasons (he called them "challenges") why the additional officers are needed. Some were out of LB's control...but he didn't flinch at including things that the Council had invited itself:
Private development is moving ahead at full speed and will impact demand for public services. Town Center, CityPlace and the Carnival Cruise Terminal will soon be joined by the Pike project...The downtown, including Pine Ave., is evolving into both a residential neighborhood and an entertainment center which is attracting large numbers of residents and out of town visitors, and placing additional deployment demands on law enforcement.
Homeland security requirements are real and expanding. In addition to our Harbor and Airport security units, every officer now assumes Homeland Security responsibilities.
While remaining fastidiously polite throughout, it quickly became clear he wouldn't be pulling Councilmembers' policy chestnuts out of the fire:
Councilman Baker: ...You also mentioned 130 new officers. I would love to see that. I wonder if you have any ideas on how we can get there?
Chief Batts: ...I don't have the answer to the question because it goes into policy issues, but I think as a city, we're going to be behind the 8-ball in a couple of years, and I don't know if we'll have the mechanism to catch up at that point in time.
Councilwoman Kell: ...How much growth are you talking about?
Chief Batts: Well even today without having the Camden projects on line, without having the Genesis project on line, without having the CityPlace project on line, all this growth that we have in the city. I'm talking about the Boeing project that we have that's pending out there. Those are all things that pull on the organization. Before you open the Pike project, although they have security, and they have security out there much like the Town Center, usually that pulls on our resources also throughout the city. That pulls from your area to go up to Town Center and just stay on top of that issue...
When 8th district Councilman Rob Webb asked Chief Batts about officer levels in City Hall's 1994 Police Dept. "Strategic Plan," Chief Batts referred to an attachment to the plan (a "wish list," he called it) that indicated LB at 1,024 sworn officers by FY 2000 (i.e. four years ago). "That wish list number comes very close to where we need to be today," Chief Batts told the incumbent.
After a bit more of this, the Mayor politely hustled Chief Batts off...only to have POA president James come to the podium and offer a piece of his mind:
[Chief Batts] just told you we need 130 more police officers. You haven't heard that [before]. About [two years ago], I walked back after one of these meetings with our then-Chief of Police, and he made a comment that he would have asked for more cops if he would have known that an extra million dollars was going to be given to the Public Corporation for the Arts, but he was under the impression that we didn't have the money.
Well, this Chief just came forward and told you we need 130 more cops.
He also told you, which is very important to me, that right now a lack of pay raises has caused a problem: we're unable to get lateral police officers...We are already experiencing a problem with hiring because of our pay structure...
...Ultimately, when the Chief told you he needs 130 more officers, and questions were asked if he has any plans, he very politely told you it's a policy issue. Well what does that mean? That's your problem. That's what it means. That means it's your problem. That's what you ran for office for. He told you he needs 130 more cops. You need to find a way to do that...
In seeking additional officers, Chief Batts noted, "[W]e are fully aware we as a city are not in the position to expand the Department at the needed rate," Chief Batts said, later adding, "We have staffing shortages, and when the resources are available, we need more police officers."
We do not translate this to mean, "It's OK, don't bother with this, do nothing." It begs the question, "Who on the Council voted for spending that left CA's fifth largest city without resources to provide its taxpaying residents and businesses with the needed level of the most basic public safety service?"
Some Council incumbents may have thought they got away with burying Chief Batts' presentation to the last day at the last hour when no one would notice or care or report it adequately. Well, we noticed...and our growing number of readers (like you) now know exactly what happened. We urge our readers to continue telling their neighbors, friends and business customers about LBReport.com so they will know too.
Chief Batts' gutsy, principled approach -- he reports, the Council decides -- carries with it an unspoken corollary. It puts the ultimate responsibility where it belongs in a democracy: the Council decides...but voters decide who's on the Council.
We hope those incumbents who helped perpetuate LB's police deficit -- and fiscal deficit, a masterful combination -- will rue the day they tried to avoid confronting this.
New: Police Chief Batts Tells Council LB Needs 130 More Cops