A recent petition calling for the Berkeley Police Department to be defunded has gained traction amid the Black Lives Matter protests across the Bay Area and nationwide.
The petition claims that “more officers, guns, jails, and prisons” are unable to solve racial disparities, injustices or police violence. The petition goes on to call for elected officials to adopt a budget that supports “community wellbeing,” divests from BPD and reallocates financial resources to social services, food, health care, housing and other services.
As of press time, the petition has gathered more than 6,500 signatures on Change.org.
Petition supporter and Berkeley resident Toki Nagata said he found out about the petition while searching for local action to take in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The funds should go toward things like affordable housing, systems of care for mental health outside of the harmful medical-industrial complex, education system, food, all those things that people need to live a dignified life,” Nagata said.
Nagata added that because he is privileged to not encounter violence or crime on a day-to-day basis, he thinks conversations about divesting from police should center people who do have such experiences.
Currently, the biennial budget plan adopted by the city of Berkeley in June 2019 earmarks about $75 million and $77 million for police expenditures in 2020 and 2021, respectively. This accounts for 16% of the city’s net expenditures in 2020 and 17% of net expenditures in 2021. By comparison, the city is slated to spend about $55 million each year in the category of health, housing and community services.
After a recently announced budget shortfall, however, City Council will hold a meeting June 16, during which a number of consent items related to the 2021 budget will be discussed, according to the meeting’s agenda.
The idea of partially divesting from the police may gain support from council members as well.
“Councilmember (Kate) Harrison agrees with the outline of the petition and is interested in moving some funding from the police to support more community-based services,” said J.T. Harechmak, legislative assistant for Harrison, in an email.
While the organizers of the petition are anonymous, the group Defund Berkeley PD has been encouraging supporters on Twitter and Instagram to sign the petition and advocate for divesting from the police at City Council meetings.
The group did not respond to an interview request by press time.
BPD declined to comment on the petition.