1st in the nation: Berkeley officials introduce major police reform bills

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In response to calls in support of developing improved public safety methods, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and City Councilmember Rigel Robinson introduced two major police reform bills.

On Monday, Arreguín introduced a proposal that would take about $9.2 million from the Berkeley Police Department’s budget for the next fiscal year. The same day, Robinson announced the first proposal in the nation to remove traffic and parking enforcement from the police department’s responsibilities.

Arreguín plans to use the 12% cut from the police department for other uses to benefit the community.

“Over the past month, our office has received hundreds of calls and emails advocating for a transformation in the way we approach public safety,” said Stefan Elgstrand, Arreguín’s spokesperson, in an email. “The Mayor’s budget proposal includes an initial 12% cut to the Police Department, which will go towards homeless and social services in addition to ensuring we have a balanced budget which has been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.”

The idea for the proposal to remove traffic enforcement stemmed from a tweet by Darrell Owens, an activist from East Bay for Everyone.

“Robinson wrote a tweet basically saying, ‘Hey, I like Darrell’s tweet. I’m going to make this a council item,’ and that’s how this got started,” Owens said.

These proposals were introduced in an effort to alleviate issues of racial injustice and address larger issues in the city regarding safety.

The aim is to have people feel safe while walking on the streets and not have to interact with police officers often, as the encounters can turn violent, according to Nathan Mizell, vice chair of the Berkeley Police Review Commission.

“We are in the process of starting something unique,” Mizell said. “Part of the inspiration for (Robinson’s proposal) came from Oakland’s Department of Transportation, which is in year three or so, and we wanted to do something that expands beyond Oakland.”

According to Owens, a 2015 national study showed that about 52% of police and civilian interactions were traffic and car-related.

He supports parking enforcement to be carried out by “just-enforcement agents,” who are not sworn officers. These agents would not be armed with guns and could not arrest anyone. Rather, if they saw a car violating parking orders, they could simply give a ticket and move on.

Barnali Ghosh, from the Walk Bike Berkeley coordinating committee, said she does not think the enforcement currently in place works.

“Nationally, what we’ve seen is that a lot of traffic enforcement is often used as an excuse to pull people over, and we’ve seen this over and over again with Philando Castile and Sandra Bland and others,” Ghosh said. “(Police) showing up with guns is extremely dangerous for our community.”

Ghosh also said she does not expect to train current police officers to do a better job. Instead, she thinks a new department would be better.

Currently, traffic and parking enforcement falls under BPD’s investigations division. Shifting these responsibilities away may benefit the community by reducing the number of interactions civilians have with police, according to Angie Chen, Robinson’s legislative aide.

“A specialized department could also allow for a greater focus on equity as it relates to transportation,” Chen said in an email. “For example, ensuring that our historically underserved Black communities are prioritized in street improvements such as paving and bike lanes.”

In response, Robinson proposed the creation of a Berkeley Department of Transportation, similar to Oakland’s, in order to ensure the use of a racial justice lens in traffic enforcement and the development of transportation policy, programs and infrastructure.

There will be a City Council meeting July 14 to further discuss the proposals.

Contact Aryia Dattamajumdar at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AryiaDm.