‘This has to happen now’: Berkeley officials introduce police reform policies

Berkeley police department 8 can't wait mayor city council Jesse Arreguin
Daniel Chang/File

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Local governments around the country are asking hard questions about policing after the recent Black Lives Matter protests, and the city of Berkeley is no exception.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and City Councilmember Kate Harrison introduced an urgency item Friday for City Council to vote on June 9. The item consists of four policies recommended by the national 8 Can’t Wait campaign, which is focused on police reform, abolition and community safety.

The new measures include requiring de-escalation tactics, only using lethal force after using nonlethal or less lethal forces, banning the discharge of weapons on moving vehicles and requiring officers to report each time they use or threaten to use force on civilians.

“This is the moment when we need to just say, ‘This has to happen now,’ ” Harrison said. “We’ve been waiting for many years.”

According to Harrison, Berkeley police officers are currently only required to report use of force in cases of injury or citizen complaint. The new policy would also require officers to note the level of force used, and Harrison hopes it will help the city to track progress over time.

Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Officer Byron White declined to comment.

BPD already institutionalized several of the 8 Can’t Wait campaign’s recommendations, including banning the chokehold, requiring a verbal warning before the use of deadly force, restricting the most severe types of force and giving officers a duty to intervene, stop and report excessive force by other police officers.

Groups advocating for defunding police forces have criticized the 8 Can’t Wait campaign as not drastic enough — its plan involves reform as the first step and police abolition further down the line. The countercampaign #8toAbolition argues that such reforms may actually push more power to police departments and thinks municipal governments should be investing in alternatives.

City Councilmember Ben Bartlett said adopting 8 Can’t Wait initiatives in Berkeley will change how BPD’s budget is used, but not, to his knowledge, increase it.

“We’ve identified savings in the police budget to repurpose,” Bartlett said. “(The item) definitely won’t add any new dollars to it.”

Kitty Calavita, chair of the Police Review Commission, or PRC, said a subcommittee focused on the use of force will be reviewing the recommendations Thursday.

Calavita emphasized the need to be vigilant in ensuring that implementation is consistent with how the policies were originally intended.

“It will have a great impact on the community in terms of the use of force and the recording of the use of force, and increased transparency of the police department,” Calavita said.

Calavita said the PRC plans to vote on the policies June 24, and Harrison expressed hope that City Council will adopt the item before its summer recess in July and that the measures will be implemented soon after.

Contact Clara Brownstein and Mela Seyoum at [email protected].