Berkeley Police Department plans to restructure officers’ patrol areas

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For the first time in more than 20 years, Berkeley Police Department is planning on restructuring its officers’ patrol areas.

The borders of Berkeley’s 18 police patrol beats — the areas the city’s 105 beat officers are responsible for observing — were decided in 1993. But since that time, some beats have experienced more criminal activity than others, resulting in a poor allocation of police resources.

The current beat system, which is “inefficient and out of date,” according to a city crime report that will be discussed at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, will be replaced by one with only 14 beats. BPD’s overall patrol area will remain unchanged, with individual beats changing size to receive police presence correlating to the number of calls for service they generate.

For example, the area surrounding University Avenue, outside of the campus’s west exit, which generated a comparatively large volume of calls, will become a beat with its own police presence, rather than being fragmented among several beats.

“I think everybody agrees that we need to redraw the beats,” said Alison Bernstein, vice chair of the Police Review Commission. “We think it’s great that the (police) department is out there talking to people and presenting ideas and getting feedback from the community.”

The new beat system is proposed to go into effect January after community outreach and education programs. The changes come in the wake of a reported 44 percent drop in violent crimes in the first six months of 2014, compared to the same period last year.

BPD partnered with Matrix Consulting Group, a research firm, to develop three possible new beat layouts, including one that would have divided the city into four large districts rather than a multitude of smaller patrol areas. After these options were presented at community meetings in each district, BPD settled on a fourth plan: one involving 14 beats.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said he was pleased with the 14-beat plan and felt it was the right balance to equally distribute police presence.

“The change is necessary to make sure the police respond to calls but doesn’t dramatically change the beat structure, like some of the other options that have been put forward,” he said.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington agreed and said the plan could also cut costs — officers on quieter beats would be less likely to sit idly while those working in more crime-dense areas worked overtime.

“As proposed, (the new beats) will increase some of the flexibility of the police chief in terms of assigning staff,” he said, “and I think having a little more flexibility could help reduce overtime.”

A timeline for implementation of the new beats in BPD’s computer-based dispatch system is being developed.

G. Haley Massara covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @BylineGraph.