Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's pick of a Californian to head Baltimore's Police Department prompted questions Monday from City Council members and other city leaders who had been hoping the new commissioner would come from the department's ranks.
"You have one guy who was a Baltimore City kid, who struggled through the ranks of the Police Department. … It seemed like he was almost a shoo-in," said Councilman Nick Mosby.
Council members were surprised Monday when the administration began putting out the word that Anthony Batts, 52, who had previously led departments in Long Beach and Oakland, would assume the top post in Baltimore.
Many council members had rallied behind acting Commissioner Anthony Barksdale, a Baltimore native and 19-year veteran of the department who had served as a top aide to Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III for the past five years. Barksdale declined to comment Monday.
The council would need to confirm Batts' appointment before it could be made final, but several members emphasized that they would put aside their feelings to support Rawlings-Blake's pick.
"All I can do is respect that that's the mayor's choice," said Mosby, who represents West Baltimore. "We have a city to run and a lot of major issues."
Bishop Douglas Miles, leader of the Baltimoreans United in Leadership interfaith coalition, said that the pick of an outsider to lead the department sends a dispiriting message to city workers.
"Once again, Baltimore has to look outside of itself for talent without giving opportunity to homegrown talent to prove itself," said Miles, pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church. "With the kind of selections that administrations in Baltimore have made in the past few years, it says to those Baltimoreans who labor in the trenches that there is no reward for loyalty."
Miles said he believes it will take Batts two to four years to become familiar with the city's challenges, and "in the process, many of the gains that have been made in crime reduction, especially violent crime, could be lost."
Batts could not be reached for comment.
Council Vice President Edward Reisinger said that while he had hoped that a local officer would be chosen as commissioner, he had confidence that the search committee the mayor assembled had made the right recommendation.
"She went through an independent process, and that's what came out of it," said Reisinger, who represents parts of Southwest Baltimore. "I don't think it was a popularity contest. I think she was looking at what was best for the city."
Reisinger said the mayor was impressed by Batts' record on community-oriented policing and violent crime.
"We need a commissioner who is going to make it a priority to go into the community and listen to what they're saying," he said. "That's what Bealefeld did. What the mayor is looking at is not just an administrator that crunches numbers."
Councilman Brandon M. Scott, who has been a strong advocate for Barksdale, said he was "a little disappointed" by the decision.
Scott attributed many of the gains made during Bealefeld's tenure to Barksdale, and said that residents in his Northeast Baltimore district had been rooting for Barksdale to take the reins.
"Commissioner Barksdale created and implemented the plan that has brought crime levels down to the lowest levels in my lifetime," said Scott. "Myself and my community leaders were looking forward to him running the agency from the forefront as he has from the background for the past five years."
Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young had publicly called for the mayor to choose a local officer to lead the department. He declined to comment Monday on the mayor's pick, saying through a spokesman that he wished to reserve his remarks until after he had met with Batts.