Berkeley City Council looks to reduce racial disparities in policing

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Berkely City Council unanimously passed recommendations from the mayor’s Fair and Impartial Working Group during a special meeting Tuesday. According to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, community trust is impacted by biased policing.

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At a special Berkeley City Council meeting Tuesday, the council unanimously passed recommendations proposed by the mayor’s Fair and Impartial Working Group that aim to reduce racial disparities in policing and increase community trust.

Some recommendations were directly proposed for the Berkeley Police Department, according to the City Council’s meeting agenda. These include ending stops for low-level offenses such as not wearing a seat belt, implementing implicit bias training and limiting searches without warrants on individuals who are on probation or parole.

“Biased policing has implications for community trust,” Arreguín said in an email. “Berkeley is not immune from our nation’s reckoning with systemic racism, but this community is united in its commitment to equal justice, and that makes us uniquely positioned to take on an issue that has been used to divide communities elsewhere.”

Under the reforms, BPD will also release previously withheld data about arrests, stops and use of force to the working group.

Another proposal that was passed was for the formation of an early intervention system that would use software to identify officers who could pose risks to themselves or to the public. By assessing data and forming a point system to determine where misconduct is concentrated, officers involved can be monitored.

Oversight of officers is not limited to what they do while on duty.

“The council also voted to implement a recommendation to terminate police officers who publish racist content on their social media feeds,” Arreguín said in a press release. “Such views are antithetical to the role of policing and can undermine effective prosecutions of dangerous individuals.”

According to the special meeting agenda, a third-party agency will conduct social media screens of officers prior to hiring and annually for currently employed officers.

The working group, which consists of Berkeley Police Review Commission members and community representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, the ASUC and other groups, has worked with BPD to gather information and analyze drivers of policing disparities.

Additionally, the group proposed more recommendations to the City Council, many of which focused on community engagement or reducing civilian interaction with armed officers. The proposal included the implementation of a specialized care unit to respond to mental health calls and the creation of a Department of Transportation to take over traffic enforcement.

“Too much of our city’s budget is spent on policing, and many of the duties we’ve assigned to officers do not require a response from someone with a badge and a gun,” Arreguín said in the email. “These are modern strategies that will enhance the long-term health, safety, and equity of the Berkeley community.”

The Berkeley Police Association has opposed these measures, citing concerns for public safety. The association was offered to participate in the working group discussions but declined to send a representative.

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