Anti-racial profiling policy passes unanimously in Berkeley City Council

Ariel Hayat/File

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After impassioned debate, Berkeley City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to adopt a policy aimed at curbing possible police bias and discrimination.

With its adoption, the council instructed the city manager to direct the chief of police to implement a fair and impartial policing policy, which outlines specific standards and training to decrease potential racial profiling. In addition, the policy will implement a data collection program on pedestrian and vehicle stops to determine the demographics of those stopped by police.

“Not to say that they’re perfect — not to say they don’t racially profile every once in a while — but on balance, we have one of the best police departments in the nation,” said Mayor Tom Bates at the meeting.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said although Berkeley Police Department has already started training, he wanted to adopt the motion to show its implementation was a priority.

Discussion of the motion attracted the largest public comment of the night, with more than 10 public comment speakers lining up to voice their thoughts. Many described accounts of racial profiling that they witnessed or personally faced.

Charles Brown alleged that police officers arrested him for “talking too loud.”

Barbara White, vice president of Berkeley’s NAACP chapter, said police officers singled out students of color at Berkeley High School for jaywalking.

Andrea Prichett, co-founder of Berkeley Copwatch, a volunteer organization that monitors police action, described another incident in May in which police officers allegedly stopped young people of color for jaywalking.

“Of the African American students who are accepted to UC Berkeley nationwide, 60 percent of them don’t want to go to UC Berkeley, because Berkeley has a reputation for racism now,” Prichett said at the meeting.

Alison Bernstein, acting chair of the Police Review Commission, noted that Berkeley Police Department actively participated in drafting the policy and commended BPD Captain Cynthia Harris’ involvement.

BPD spokesperson Officer Jennifer Coats said the police department initially came forward with the idea for the policy and sought input from the commission and the NAACP.

“Our mission is to treat people fairly and respectfully at all times, and this policy only reinforces those core values,” Coats said.

After public comment, Bates and City Manager Christine Daniel expressed the opinion that the motion should be postponed until the council reconvenes in September after a summer recess. Bates said he wanted to wait until BPD Chief Michael Meehan, who was on vacation at the time of the meeting, could be present to answer questions.

His proposal was met with strong opposition from council members and the audience.

In response to Bates’ proposed postponement, Councilmember Kriss Worthington said despite its progressive image, Berkeley is a “hotbed of hypocrisy.” He added that the policy was already a mild one and consistent with state law.

“It’s not some super-progressive policy put forward by some super radical group,” Worthington said at the meeting. “This is long overdue.”

After additional debate and two sub-motions, the council eventually passed the policy, which will be implemented in four months’ time.

Nico Correia is the lead city reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @nicolocorreia.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article misspelled Andrea Prichett’s name.