But, Norris said, Batts' experience in Oakland, a city that like Baltimore, is plagued by drugs and violent crime, would prove useful to him here.
He said Batts should promote top aides from within the ranks of existing officers.
After a 27-year career in Long Beach, Batts took over the Oakland Police Department in 2009. He scuffled with political leadership and was vocal in his frustration with cuts to the agency, and ultimately resigned.
"He got totally screwed in Oakland," said Geoff Collins, who served as president of the Oakland Police Foundation, which Batts revived to help raise money for the agency. "Oakland is one of the most dysfunctional political systems in the country, and … Tony got caught in the grinder. He's really excellent, and he'll be a great asset to your department."
Oakland City Council President Larry Reid said he agreed that Batts was handcuffed in Oakland with a lack of resources and little autonomy. Batts "understood [the challenges we face here]. He was accessible."
"The city of Baltimore is getting an incredible human being, who just so happens to be a police commissioner," Reid said.
But Batts was also criticized for spending time away from the agency and was derided as a "showboat" by officers, according to published reports. A monitor found that the agency was not making progress under an agreement stemming from a 2003 civil lawsuit over police misconduct, though his supporters said that process, too, had become political.
For his part, Batts said he joined Oakland — which he says he first dismissed as "too gritty" when approached about the job — because he saw a chance to "make things better."
"I grew up in South Central, with all the dysfunctionalities of drugs and crime that kids have to deal with," he said. "I asked my mother growing up, 'Does anybody care about kids who look like me?'"
He said he was brought in by then-Mayor Ron Dellums, who did not seek another term and was replaced by Jean Quan. They didn't see eye to eye. "Sometimes styles don't mix," Batts said.
Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said there are distinct differences between East Coast and West Coast policing that can be overcome but also pose challenges.
He said that Baltimore's police commissioner from 1994 to 1999, Thomas Frazier, came from San Jose and implemented a policy of rotating detectives among different units. That practice had worked in California, he said, but was strongly criticized here.
"There's a learning curve, but I think with someone as experienced as he is, and coming out of a city with enormous challenges, he's going to be smart about his next moves and recognize that what may have worked in Long Beach, what may have worked in Oakland, may not work in Baltimore," said Wexler, who was part of Rawlings-Blake's search committee.
William J. Bratton, the former chief of the New York and Los Angeles police departments, said Bealefeld's departure amid significant crime declines in Baltimore raised questions among outsiders about whether City Hall is difficult to work with.
"Tony Batts is one of the best there is in American policing today," Bratton said. "Tony is best left alone. Tell him what you want, what your goals are, and he'll get you there. I hope based on recent experiences in Baltimore that your mayor is smart enough to realize she's picked one of the best, who will share her vision, and leave him to it."
Rawlings-Blake said Batts will be allowed to run the department as he sees fit.
"I'm not here to do his job," she said. "If I have anyone in my cabinet who I have to do my job and theirs, I don't need them."
Batts is a divorced father of three. He said he was distracted at Tuesday's news conference because one of his daughters is in Biloxi, Miss., where Hurricane Isaac bears down on the Gulf Coast. His ex-wife is U.S. Rep. Laura Richardson, a California Democrat.
Batts said he drove around Baltimore during the search process, quizzing residents and police officers about the city, crime, and government. In Southeast Baltimore, he said he spoke to women pushing strollers who said the rowdy bar crowds were their biggest concern.
Further north, he said, he approached two men standing in the street and saw them exchange "red things in balloons."
"They were doing a dope deal right in front of me," he said. "When they're doing that in broad daylight, that's something we're going to have to address as a city."
His interactions with officers were mixed too. He said one officer was "the nicest guy in the world," while he didn't like how another spoke to him. "Part of what I have to do is set that standard of what I expect," he said, saying he wants a "professional and constitutional" police department.
But he didn't offer much insight into the city's crime situation. He spoke of reading about the number of gang members, and being told that heroin and pharmaceutical drugs are the biggest problems in the city.
Batts said he will seek detailed information on the city's criminals and demand accountability from police leaders, who he said will be asked to re-apply for their jobs. "I'm down to the nth degree," he said.
"I want the names of the people, their families, their histories, who's in conflict, who's in agreement, who's bringing in the heroin," he said. "That is our craft, that is our job, that is my expectation."
Baltimore Sun reporters Julie Scharper and Erica L. Green contributed to this article.
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