Berkeley Police Department reports staffing issues after budget cuts

File photo of Berkeley Police Department Ronald Tsukamoto Public Safety Building
Lianne Frick/File
During a Police Review Commission meeting Wednesday, Berkeley Police Department Chief Andrew Greenwood expressed concerns over the staffing challenges that have resulted from budget cuts.

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Berkeley’s Police Review Commission, or PRC, discussed how the city’s plan to dramatically cut funding to its police department has resulted in staffing challenges at a meeting Wednesday.

Amid community calls to defund the police, Berkeley City Council decided to cut $9.045 million, or 12%, from the Berkeley Police Department’s budget for the fiscal year 2021 at a meeting June 30. At the meeting, Berkeley City Councilmember Cheryl Davila proposed a budget that would have defunded BPD by 50%, which many Berkeley residents supported. On July 14, Berkeley City Council established that a 50% reduction of the budget was a goal of the public safety reimagining process.

BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood expressed concerns at the meeting over BPD’s “dire staffing situation.”

“At least five (officers) who were in the queue for consideration have withdrawn, citing their concerns about the department, about the city and some of the information they’re reading in the newspapers, such as a 50% budget reduction for that department,” Greenwood said at the meeting.

Greenwood added that it would be a challenge to develop and adapt to the recent initiatives and council decisions focused on the department.

Then, Berkeley resident Charles Clarke discussed BPD racial diversity statistics, which showed that the police department’s racial composition mostly mirrors that of the city.

During the meeting, the PRC commissioners also considered a policy complaint regarding fees for vehicle towing and storage.

Monica Navarro, who moved to a domestic violence shelter in San Francisco, found no parking spaces for her unregistered vehicle and was often ticketed before deciding to park in Berkeley. Her vehicle was towed Sept. 25, and because Navarro is unable to pay the $800 towing fee, her vehicle will be sold Nov. 4.

“It feels like someone stole my vehicle because they’re selling my vehicle without my authorization,” Navarro said at the meeting. “I feel like I have no option. … There should be options for people.”

Although the PRC voted to accept the policy complaint, it acknowledged that there is nothing the commission could do to prevent the sale of Navarro’s vehicle before Nov. 4.

The commissioners also spent time discussing mutual aid and policing policies for when outside police agencies act in Berkeley.

Several Berkeley residents publicly commented, urging the PRC to recommend Berkeley City Council to apply the city’s use-of-force policy to mutual aid forces. Commenters cited an incident from December 2014, when police officers from Hayward and Berkeley allegedly employed batons and “nonlethal” bullets at a demonstration protesting jury decisions to not indict the police officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

“Nothing makes people turn less than peaceful more than seeing injuries that occur as a result of police violence,” Berkeley resident Russell Bates said at the meeting. “Police violence itself can create more violence on the street.”

Catherine Hsu is a crime and courts reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @catherinehsuDC.

A previous version of this article’s photo caption misspelled Police Review Commission.