Berkeley City Council cuts police budget by 12%, reduces department scope

Berkeley City Council Meeting.
Ireland Wagner/Staff
On Wednesday, Berkeley City Council decided to redistribute the Berkeley Police Department's budget to community safety reform and local affordable housing.

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Following the Berkeley City Council’s decision Wednesday, police officers will be removed from traffic enforcement in Berkeley and the Berkeley Police Department’s budget will be cut by 12%.

In a public meeting that started around 6 p.m. Tuesday and ran until 3 a.m. Wednesday, the City Council passed several items, including an omnibus item — one with several smaller items packed into it and voted on at once — that would create sweeping community safety reform.

Among the items passed in the omnibus item was the Safety for All: George Floyd Community Safety Act, a police reform bill that will hire several consultants to reduce BPD’s footprint, and an item that will provide more affordable housing units in the city.

“I appreciate the council and mayor for focusing on reimagining public safety,” said Berkeley resident Megan Schwartz during public comment. “There is real harm happening to Black and Latinx people.”

Omnibus item 18 had five subitems that are all relevant to “re-imagine” public safety. More than 100 residents spoke on this item, many in support.

The two items that will lead to the eventual reduction of BPD’s budget by half and the creation of a Berkeley Department of Transportation, which will take over traffic enforcement from the police, received more support than the other three subitems, one of which will help the city monitor police interactions with the public.

A few residents said they did not support the five-part item, however.

“This is not a trigger-happy department,” said Berkeley resident Charles Clarke at the meeting. “While this council is using Minnesota as a model, Minneapolis is using Berkeley as a model. Consider keeping the good things we have.”

The omnibus item was voted on around 3 a.m. and passed unanimously with one abstention from Councilmember Cheryl Davila.

Two items that will increase the amount of local affordable housing also passed.

The city will apply for up to $7.76 million in additional support from the state of California for a local permanent housing program. According to Mayor Jesse Arreguín, the program already has an 80% rehousing success rate.

A rental housing development, located at 1717 University Ave., will also receive bonds by the California Public Finance Authority to build three units with 11 total bedrooms for very low-income families.

Three emergency agenda items were also considered at the beginning of the meeting. Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani proposed a letter for the Oakland Zoo to be reclassified as an outdoor museum, and Councilmember Susan Wengraf proposed a letter from the city to UC Berkeley regarding the recent COVID-19 outbreak attributed to campus fraternities.

Davila proposed an emergency motion for the city to pass a vote of no confidence in BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood, in response to his earlier comments regarding the use of firearms as a replacement for tear gas and other chemical crowd dispersal agents. Greenwood later apologized and the motion was not seconded.

“In order to address institutional racism, we need to change leadership,” Davila said at the meeting. “The police chief’s comments, ‘We shoot people,’ was not OK.”

According to Arreguín, the motion was not supported because California law only permits an emergency item if a council member found a time-sensitive emergency after the agenda had been set.

Contact Eric Rogers at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @eric_rogers_dc.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the City Council cut the BPD budget in half. In fact, item 18b was modified to indicate that reducing the police budget by 50% is a goal of the public safety reimagining process.