Berkeley City Council votes to create task force on racial disparities suggested in police data

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Joshua Jordan/File

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Berkeley City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to create a task force that will address racial disparities suggested in data on the Berkeley Police Department.

The city manager will be in charge of creating the task force and will consider a broad group of stakeholders, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union, the city’s Police Review Commission, or PRC, the Berkeley Police Association and members of BPD.

“Bringing people together is a really important piece of this picture,” said Councilmember Kate Harrison.

This task force is being created in light of data that suggest Black residents in Berkeley are subject to a disproportionate amount of police use of force.

Harrison spearheaded the recommendation to create the task force. The recommendation was based on a report from the PRC, which Harrison said she organized into a set of actionable steps. Harrison added that she was “very pleased” with the council’s decision to unanimously approve the creation of the task force.

Harrison said the task force will begin its work after the release of a report from the Center for Policing Equity, or CPE — a third-party organization that is in the process of assembling BPD’s stop data. Harrison said council members were told Tuesday night that the report will likely be released within the next month.

BPD began collecting stop data in January 2015 after the council passed the Fair and Impartial Policing Policy in June 2014.

This policy led to the collection of demographic data on BPD’s stops of pedestrians, vehicles and bicycles. The disparities in this stop data prompted the creation of a PRC Fair and Impartial Policing subcommittee, which reviewed the data and created a set of recommendations on how to decrease these disparities, PRC chair Sahana Matthews said in an email.

“The PRC report and the Council action this week … is the first effort that makes any acknowledgement of BPD disparities,” said Fair and Impartial Policing subcommittee member George Lippman in an email.

Community organizations that reviewed the data quickly noticed a pattern of disparities, Lippman said in the email. Lippman stated that the police department took no action on its own to acknowledge these disparities and develop a plan. Instead, BPD outsourced the analysis to CPE and then delayed the release of the draft report, according to Lippman.

In addition to the task force, the recommendation that passed Tuesday included other changes, such as developing a policy that requires officers to provide their full names, ranks and commands in writing to the people they stop. The recommendation also calls for simplifying the policing data that are available on the city’s public data portal.

“This isn’t just about accountability — it’s also transparency, because the more people understand what the police are doing, the more they trust the police,” Harrison said.

Rachael Cornejo covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @RachaelCornejo.