City council discusses stay-at-home enforcement, police use of force

Photo of Mayor Jesse Arreguín and council members Sophie Hahn, Susan Wengraf, Ben Bartlett and Terry Taplin
Berkeley City Council discussed street conditions, enforcement of the COVID-19 stay-at-home order and the city’s finances at its regular meeting, which started with the mayor and councilmembers being sworn in. Top, Left to Right: Council members, Sophie Hahn, Susan Wengraf and Mayor Jesse Arreguín Bottom, Left to Right: Council members, Terry Taplin and Ben Bartlett

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Berkeley City Council discussed street conditions, enforcement of the COVID-19 stay-at-home order and the city’s finances at its regular meeting Tuesday.

The meeting began with Mayor Jesse Arreguín and councilmembers Sophie Hahn, Susan Wengraf, Ben Bartlett and Terry Taplin being sworn into office. This was Taplin’s first city council meeting as a councilmember as all other sworn-in members were incumbents.

“Serving the city of Berkeley is my supreme honor and pleasure,” Taplin said during the meeting. “I was born in this town. I grew a deep love for our deeply passionate populace and our beautiful city.”

City auditor Jenny Wong followed with a presentation of her audit findings on city street conditions. According to Wong, Berkeley will have to increase funding for street maintenance. Wong also recommended updating the Streets Rehabilitation and Repair Policy, which has not been updated since 2009.

City council then passed about 40 consent calendar items, which included supporting the installation of a plaque in honor of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in front of her Berkeley childhood home, adopting the Adeline Corridor Specific Plan zoning amendments and an urgent item that would establish the city’s enforcement policy concerning stay-at-home orders.

Arreguín noted that the urgent item codifies the city’s current enforcement of the state stay-at-home order given Nov. 19 and the regional order given Dec. 3.

“At the time when we had the curfew under the health order from the state, our approach has been to educate and if it is a large group gathering to disperse,” said City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley during the meeting. “It has not been a criminal approach; it has not been a citation approach.”

Next, the council passed the Annual Appropriations Ordinance for 2021, which appropriates the city’s budget. The ordinance authorizes a gross appropriations total of $521,674,251. Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani added that the city has been able to balance the budget without having to lay people off.

The last item discussed amending the Berkeley Police Department’s, or BPD, use of force policy and policy’s wording, specifically the two instances of the phrase “strive to” in the policy.

BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood argued that without “strive to,” the idea of “minimal amount of force” would imply there is one reasonable use of force when there is a range of reasonable responses. Police Review Commission Chair Kitty Calavita, however, criticized the use of the phrase.

“Not only is adding ‘strive to’ unnecessary in this context, it also runs counter to the spirit of the policy,” Calavita said during the meeting. “Adding ‘strive to’ weakens the policy substantially and allows for a potential, but unlikely scenario in which an officer may use unnecessary and unreasonable force as long as they can say they tried not to.”

The council then opted to remove “strive to” from the policy and redefine the phrase “minimal amount necessary” to show a range of objectively necessary uses of force. The policy passed unanimously.

Robson Swift is a city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @swift_robson.