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."