Berkeley City Council approves police accountability measure for November ballot

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Amid the shelter-in-place order, the Berkeley City Council held its weekly meeting Tuesday over Zoom and unanimously approved a resolution to give voters an option to create a police accountability board and director of police accountability with a ballot measure in November.

The meeting was set in motion with opening statements from City Council members, who commended the community’s response to the coronavirus. During his opening statement, Mayor Jesse Arreguín said he was “inspired” by the ways the community has supported each other and fostered “love and care” during these “challenging” times.

Arreguín also recognized a few impactful community actions, including the organizing of personal protective equipment, the sewing of masks to donate to medical professionals and financially contributing to the Berkeley Relief Fund.

“These are truly challenging times, which our species hasn’t seen on a global scale in a century,” said City Councilmember Rigel Robinson during the meeting.

City Council members voted to place a charter amendment measure on the Nov. 3 general municipal election ballot. If passed by voters, it would create both a police accountability board and a director of police accountability position.

Several meeting attendees voiced concern about the board’s potential lack of independence from the city manager, however. In order to make the board seem more independent, City Council members changed the name at the meeting from police review board to police accountability board.

“With the new police review process, we will have increased trust – both on the part of community members and for our police – all of whom will benefit from more transparency, professionalism and certainty in the process,” said City Councilmember Sophie Hahn during the meeting. “If we can move forward from this huge undertaking, it will provide a new foundation on which we can build much stronger relationships between our police and our community members.”

Hahn, like most other Council members, highlighted the long-term nature of this resolution and the “strong spirit of collaboration” that occurred between Berkeley’s advocates, the Berkeley Police Association and City Council and staff. She added that Berkeley was “overdue” in terms of updating the city’s police review practices.

City Council approved two other “time critical items” — City Councilmember Cheryl Davila’s resolutions to condemn the “derogatory usage” of the label “Chinese Virus, as well as a resolution approving the research and establishment of a “Save Our Small,” or SOS, business loan fund. Two more “time critical items” were moved to the April 21 meeting, one of which would establish a moratorium on any city enforcement that would displace members of the homeless community.

“This is an opportunity for Berkeley to rapidly explore a potentially very powerful new instrument for getting capital into the hands of our small businesses through very low-interest loans,” Hahn said during the meeting. “It is the chance for us to try and do something important and worthwhile.”

Skylar Schoemig is a city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sschoemig_dc.