‘The onus is on us’: UC Berkeley limits police department scope, use of force

UCPD Police Car
Ariel Hayat/File

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The national Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality has been localized to UC Berkeley’s campus, as several reforms are being made to UCPD, limiting its scope and creating public safety alternatives.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ sent a campuswide email Thursday outlining her proposed reforms for the campus UCPD force. According to the email, the proposals stemmed from letters and conversations with community members calling for accountability, as well as recommendations from Christ’s Independent Advisory Board on Police Accountability and Community Safety.

“Elements of our country’s law enforcement culture dehumanize some of the very people whose safety and wellness police officers are sworn to protect, especially the Black community,” Christ said in the email. “The onus is on us.”

In response to the calls for reform, carotid holds are now banned from UCPD officers’ practice, according to Christ’s email, and police protocols and written policies will be updated to ensure that use-of-force policies are “as restrictive as possible.”

Christ also said a team of mental health professionals will now respond to noncriminal calls for wellness checks and mental health emergency interventions, in place of armed police.

In addition to the personnel changes, UCPD’s level of militarization will be assessed in an audit to look for “excessive” equipment that is unnecessary for protecting the community. The audit will also examine the scope of police, according to Christ, who said at several points in the email that the role of UCPD officers will be restricted to responding to criminal calls. UCPD will also be relocated from Sproul Hall in order to make the building — located on Sproul Plaza and near the entrance to campus — “more welcoming.”

“We acknowledge the harm that can be done by a militarized police force,” Christ said in the email. “Over the years, the scope of law enforcement has grown, and it is time to re-assess it.”

According to Christ, these changes will involve a time-intensive process of working with the independent advisory board, Black students, Black community members and UCPD to implement the new protocols and reforms — particularly the headquarter’s relocation and the creation of a professional mental health response team.

ASUC President Victoria Vera said she plans to use her platform as an executive in the student government to amplify Black voices in conversations with campus administration and to provide Black activists, who have been advocating for UCPD reforms for years, access to the meetings with administrators.

Vera emphasized that, while she is glad that the reforms are being worked on, the fight for UCPD reforms is not new and has been carried out by many generations of Black UC Berkeley students. She added that she wishes the UCPD reforms were stronger.

“UCPD is not exempt from the national conversation that’s happening right now about policing in the United States,” Vera said. “We need to do better. We need to be doing good by our students and people.”

Kate Finman is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.