OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts announced a major reorganization plan Wednesday that he said is aimed at making his department more efficient to help it cope with having fewer resources and officers because of budget cuts.
Batts told reporters at a news conference at police headquarters that he wants to “build an organization that’s fast, bold and quick” even though the number of officers in the department has dropped dramatically from 832 in November 2008 to 637 now.
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“Our numbers are shrinking and we are preparing to cope if they go into the 500s,” Batts said.
Batts said his plan calls for most officers to become generalists who can investigate a variety of serious crimes instead of specialists who focus on one area, such as homicides.
He said currently there are “multiple units doing the same things” and he wants to consolidate them “to get more bang for the buck” and have more officers out on patrol.
Batts said a major component of his plan is to split the Bureau of Field Operations into two separate bureaus, one in East Oakland and one in West Oakland, with a deputy chief in charge of each.
The change sends a message to the community that the Police Department plans to deploy its senior leadership to reduce crime and improve customer service, Batts said.
Splitting the Bureau of Field Operations into two separate divisions will take effect on Saturday and will impact patrol officers, and the other changes will take effect in mid-August, police spokeswoman Holly Joshi said.
Batts said inaction by the Oakland City Council, in addition to budget cuts, forced him to try to be as efficient as possible with limited resources.
Referring to the council’s decision to end funding for a helicopter used by police, Batts said, “The city does not have the resolve to have a helicopter,” which he said he believes “is a force multiplier” that makes officers more productive.
The Oakland City Attorney’s Office has won two injunctions in court that are aimed at cracking down on gangs in certain parts of the city, but Batts said the City Council recently dropped plans to seek additional gang injunctions in other areas.
The chief also said the council “doesn’t have the stomach for curfews” that he had hope to impose for young people.
Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, the president of the union that represents Oakland officers, said he agrees with Batts that the department must be reorganized in order to deal with its limited resources but that he’s not sure if the chief’s plan will be effective and is taking “a wait and see” approach.
“I’m not saying it’s the right way or the wrong way, but I do have some concerns,” Arotzarena said.
Arotzarena said “it’s a huge and significant change” to discontinue having officers specialize in homicides, robberies and assaults and having them investigate all three different types of crimes.
Arotzarean, who used to work in the homicide and robbery units, said having inexperienced officers investigate homicides could be counterproductive because it takes many years for officers to become accomplished in the field.
Arotzarena said he is also concerned that property crimes such as burglaries and thefts will be given a lower priority and in many cases will not be investigated.
However, Batts said he thinks his plan will result in more investigations of property crimes because there will be more patrol officers.
“We will have more capacity, not less” to investigate property crimes,” he said.
Referring to his entire reorganization plan, Batts predicted, “It will be a positive adventure.”
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