Berkeley officials discuss budget reallocation, protesting in virtual town hall

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Berkeley City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley discussed Berkeley Police Department funding reallocation as well as safe protesting in a virtual town hall Thursday.

Williams-Ridley was joined by Berkeley health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez and BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood in answering questions from the public.

Hernandez advised that protestors wear masks, rely on signage over shouting and singing, practice social distancing and get tested for COVID-19 after attending each demonstration. Residents can now make appointments at two free testing sites. They do not have to show symptoms to qualify.

“There’s two pandemics that we’re dealing with right now,” Hernandez said during the livestream. “There’s the COVID-19 pandemic that we hope will end — we have a cure soon. The epidemic of racism is one that we will continue to have to work on, and they’re intertwined.”

Many questions were directed toward Greenwood, including those about BPD officer training, community trust and potential budget reforms.

According to Greenwood, BPD officers currently undergo training in procedural justice and mindfulness-based stress reduction and meditation. Greenwood said community engagement and creating a diverse department are necessary to develop community-oriented policing practices.

Greenwood also apologized for his comments during Tuesday’s virtual City Council meeting that said firearms could be used to manage protestors as a crowd dispersal technique.

According to Greenwood, the day-to-day demands on BPD officers result in a “challenging” environment. He added that BPD receives more than 200 calls per day. While some are crime-related, many are issues of poverty, drug addiction and mental illness.

“If we can offload some of those issues, if we can reallocate resources to make our community safer, then that is what our folks want to do,” Greenwood said during the event.

Williams-Ridley echoed the need to support mental health, homelessness and youth development programs, but stressed the need for careful and collaborative solutions.

“I’m not going to run with scissors and start cutting and cutting. I’m going to be intentional to effect what our community needs with us,” Williams-Ridley said of the BPD budget at the meeting. “I need all corners of Berkeley to be at the table with us in helping us make these decisions.”

While Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín later confirmed the city’s intent to divert some funding from policing to other social services, Williams-Ridley said a series of forums will be organized throughout the Berkeley community to encourage open dialogue on this shift.

Contact Victoria Stafford at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @VictoriaStaffrd