Berkeley task force to address racial disparities in policing

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The city is set to restart virtual meetings in June for its task force aimed at addressing racial disparities in Berkeley policing, City Councilmember Kate Harrison announced in an email Tuesday.

The meetings were suspended for a period due to COVID-19. According to Berkeley Police Review Commission vice chair Nathan Mizell, the task force operates in addition to the permanent city Police Review Commission, an independent civilian oversight agency that advises city officials on Berkeley Police Department procedure.

Mizell said Mayor Jesse Arreguín created the task force as a temporary body aimed at reviewing and analyzing data from BPD, with its ultimate goal being to deliver a report and make a conclusion regarding racial disparities in Berkeley policing. Mizell added that the task force focuses on stop data in particular.

According to Mizell, despite BPD’s official statement on its webpage that it would update its open data portal with stop data every 60 days, it has not done so since July 2019.

“It’s been quite a bit longer than 60 days, and there still have been no concrete answers from the department as to why that’s the case,” Mizell said.

BPD was contacted for comment but did not respond as of press time.

Mizell also said, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Police Review Commission met with BPD and received information regarding the state of the department and staffing updates.

However, according to Mizell, the commission, like the task force, has been unable to resume its full work for the past three months amid the pandemic.

“That seriously limits our ability to keep BPD accountable or to even continue the enforcement work that we have waiting,” Mizell said.

According to Harrison, Arreguín requested last week that the task force resume, just prior to George Floyd’s death and the following national unrest.

A 2016 study by the UCLA Center for Policing Equity found that although Berkeley’s policing was more equitable than that of many other cities, there were clear instances of policing differences by race, according to Harrison.

One metric used in the study was a stop data yield rate, Harrison added, which determines whether or not a police stop was justified.

“The yield rate tells us who gets stopped and how many stops end in arrest,” Harrison said. “The study found that Black residents were stopped without arrest or further action — meaning they were unjustified — more often than white individuals.”

Harrison added that she hopes the city will take action to change what she believes are well-intentioned policing policies that she said have, in practice, had a greater impact on minority groups than on white people.

Harrison also noted that while some on the task force wanted more time to continue to collect and analyze data, she instead favors “moving forward” by using preexisting data to begin confronting racial disparities in Berkeley policing.

Contact Mattias Hoz and Hanna Lykke at [email protected].