On Feb. 23, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to adopt sweeping police reforms aimed at reducing racial disparities in policing. “Low-level” offenses, such as failing to wear a seat belt or driving with expired license plate tags, will now be eliminated, and the city’s Police Department will now require written consent for police searches.
A working group gathered by Mayor Jesse Arreguín, composed of academics, activists, city and police officials, formulated the 202 page reform proposal over the last year to address the racial discrepancies in policing documented in Berkeley and around the country.
Under the proposal, the city will deprioritize traffic stops and low-level offenses that don’t impact public safety. Police will also be required to obtain written approval for all consent searches and commit fewer warrantless searches of people on probation and parole.
In a series of tweets, Mayor Arreguín said these new reforms will “free up public safety resources enabling police focus on priorities like violent crime.”
The proposal will strengthen the Early Intervention System that is already in place, which helps identify officers who may be on a path of regular misconduct. This system assigns points to an officer based on their conduct. A certain number of points will trigger the system and prompt a review. The plan will also fire officers for racist posts made on social media.
As part of the reform package, the city plans to create a new Specialized Care Unit to respond to mental health calls instead of police officers, and the creation of a Department of Transportation (BerkDOT) where trained civilians would handle traffic enforcement duties instead of officers. These initiatives are a part of the city’s upcoming work launched to Reimagine Public Safety.
This package comes after a report by the Center for Policing Equity found that Black people are 6.5 times more likely to be stopped by the Berkeley Police Department than white people while driving and 4.5 times more likely to be stopped while on foot.
The proposal also comes after increasing demand for police reforms across the country, following the police killing of George Floyd last May, and the countless lives people of color have lost at the hands of police officers.
In an Op-ed piece about defunding the police, Arreguín acknowledges his responsibility as a mayor to ensure the safety of his citizens and to invoke change when demanded.
“Like many progressive leaders, I feel the sense of urgency, and I hear the calls for systemic change. We must heed these calls and innovate for reform, and we must do so both thoughtfully and safely.”
The council’s vote drew criticism from the Berkeley Police Association, which said they were not consulted about the proposed reforms. The union even urged the City Council “to reject the proposed recommendations,” claiming the new policies will jeopardize public safety.
“These so-called reforms will result in more and more paperwork, reducing police work that keeps our community safe and keeps officers connected with citizens,” said Sgt. Darren Kacelek, President of the Berkeley Police Association.