Oakland police chief meets with 5-year-old victim

(ABC7)

December 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
After just 30 days on the job, Oakland's new police chief is preparing to overhaul his department. One goal is to build public trust in a community that has a history of being at odds with police and, as part of that promise, the chief met with a 5-year-old girl.

Azaria Butts was at her grandmother's house in Oakland, the day after Thanksgiving, when a stray bullet struck her in the back and shattered glass all over her.

"Yeah, it hurt a lot, and it burned," said Azaria.

"She was the sweetest thing. She was such a bright light," said Chief Anthony Batts.

At a press conference Wednesday, Batts says he met with Azaria as part of his promise to engage the public and win back their trust.

"I turned to the mother and said 'I apologize for not keeping your child safe and that's my responsibility as chief 24 hours a day,'" said Chief Batts.

The police chief says he is redirecting the department's resources to fight three things: gangs, guns and drugs.

Efficiency is a huge challenge, since he is using a limited number of officers to answer a backlog of service calls. He's down 20 officers from a full complement of 803, and budget cuts are threatening more layoffs.

"We are and will continue to be better at a customer-driven police organization. Our customers are the people of this community and we will be responsible to them," said Batts.

Part of his plan is to make a dramatic change in the culture of the Oakland Police Department.

"The perception that I saw, reading newspapers and hearing different reports outside, was that you had a closed door organization that did not want to participate," said Batts.

Batts wants to open those doors and be more transparent with the community, but he'll have to overcome a history of distrust.

"I think the most important thing is not so much of what he said, but what he did," said Aisha Stevens, Azaria's mother.


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