‘Out of line’: Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett brings up police salaries, own status during traffic stop

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Karen Chow/File

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Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett referenced his position and discussed police officer salaries during an encounter with a Berkeley police officer in July, as first reported by Berkeleyside.

Bartlett, who represents District 3 in South Berkeley, was pulled over by Berkeley Police Department officer Stephanie Cole for allegedly running a red light July 19. He immediately identified himself as a City Council member, told Cole that he actively supported pay raises for Berkeley police officers and disclosed information about a closed-session City Council vote on officer contracts.

“Breaking my balls (to) give you guys the biggest raise possible,” Bartlett said to Cole, according to an audio recording of the interaction obtained by Berkeleyside. “This how you repay me?”

Political ethics expert Robert Stern told Berkeleyside that Bartlett was “using his position to try to get out of a ticket.But in a statement to Berkeleyside, Bartlett said he felt the need to identify himself as a council member to protect himself and avoid being racially profiled, “like many professional black men.”

Bartlett has since apologized for the incident. He issued a public apology on Twitter on Friday morning.

“I definitely was out of line and lost control. It was a stressful situation, and I completely gave in to the stress and it was a mistake,” Bartlett said. “I’m really worried that I let the young people down.”

At the traffic stop, Bartlett did not have his driver’s license and could not find his auto insurance paperwork, which Cole requested. Cole gave Bartlett warnings for his alleged traffic violation and his failure to provide insurance paperwork. He was also given a “fix-it ticket” for not having a driver’s license.

The traffic stop occurred when Bartlett was on his way to a retirement party for City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who recently announced that he will not run again after representing District 7 for 22 years. In the audio recording, Bartlett can be heard telling Cole that he was in a rush to attend the event.

Worthington refrained from criticizing Bartlett, attributing his behavior to stress rather than malicious intent. Worthington said Bartlett’s behavior during the police stop “takes away from the powerful and important work he is doing” surrounding advocacy for low-income communities, Worthington said.

In a statement to Berkeleyside, Bartlett said he will try to reform interactions between the community and its police officers.

“I was wrong, and this can be a teaching moment, something positive about it,” Bartlett said. “It’s important to keep our higher selves, even when we’re stressed and under circumstances beyond our control. We have to remember to take a breath and keep our higher selves in charge.”

Mariam Zagub is the lead race and diversity reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MZagub.