City Council to consider reinstating foot patrol in Downtown Berkeley

Aren Saunders-Gonzalez/Staff

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The Downtown Berkeley area may see increased police foot and bicycle patrol, as City Council will consider establishing funding for this recommendation at its regular Tuesday meeting.

The foot patrol officers in Downtown were cut last year because of a shortage in Berkeley police officers, but CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association John Caner said reinstating these officers will promote a “higher quality of life for residents, visitors and business owners.”

This agenda item will affect police Districts 3, 4 and 5, which, according to Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel, cover the area between Sacramento Street and Shattuck Avenue.  The initiative is currently in its recommendation stage and will not be voted on until May, according to Councilmember Kate Harrison.

According to Caner, maintaining “order” in Downtown has been a “challenge” without officers patrolling the area. Implementing foot and bike patrol officers may assist with “quality-of-life level” complaints, according to Caner. He added that officers in vehicles who have jurisdiction over the entire city receive a high volume of complaints and tend to prioritize violent crime, meaning that “quality-of-life” complaints have a lower priority.

Founder of First They Came for the Homeless Mike Zint, however, said in a text message that he believes that this initiative is “more about dealing with poor people, or people of color than the safety of the entire community.”

Harrison, who sponsored the initiative, said the general hope is that increased police presence in Downtown will create a more “pleasant atmosphere” to live and work in. Harrison said she anticipates that residents will call the police more frequently because the foot and bike patrol officers would be more familiar to them.

“It creates a more positive feeling towards the police and lowers crime rate,” Harrison said. “At a time like this, it’s good for the community and police department to interact. Last year, with the presence of the alt-right, a lot of people were concerned about the police department.”

Caner said the city has ambassadors in Downtown who can inform police officers or make requests but have no law enforcement capabilities. He stated that a “stronger sense of accountability, ownership and honorability” exists with foot and bike patrol rather than with cars. The agenda item proposes a potential solution to the matter: a deputized community service officer who can issue citations and make arrests.

Harrison explained that this initiative will only be put into practice if the police department hires more staff. She credited the current economy as a contributing factor to why the police department is currently “down a number of officers.”

BPD is facing an understaffing problem, following a trend of budgeting constraints and a lack of qualified applicants in police departments across the nation.

“I’d assume this is a common thing across the state, and even the nation,” Caner said. “Intuitively, having officers on foot makes sense. There’s proven models with community policing on foot patrol indicating that they help lower crime rates.”

Contact Janani Natarajan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jrnatarajan.