City auditor’s office finds racial disparities in Berkeley police stops

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Karin Goh/File
The city auditor’s office presented an audit of Berkeley Police Department that found racial disparities in stops and response times. The audit used computer-aided dispatch to analyze more than 360,000 events involving police between 2015-2019.

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The Berkeley city auditor’s office released an audit of the city’s police department focusing on racial disparities in stops and response times to incidents involving mentally ill or unhoused individuals Thursday.

In response to the national conversation on race and policing sparked by the killing of George Floyd, Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett proposed collecting data about police activities as part of a process to discuss police reform. The proposal was later incorporated into Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s Safety for All: George Floyd Community Safety Act, which was passed by the city in July 2020.

“Time will tell as to the impacts of recent reforms, some of which were passed by City Council in February, but addressing this issue and tracking the impact of policy changes should continue to be a priority,” said Jenny Wong, Berkeley city auditor, in an email.

Using a database called computer-aided dispatch, or CAD, shared by Berkeley Police Department, the city auditor’s office analyzed more than 360,000 events from 2015 to 2019 involving the police. These events included calls for service, officer-initiated stops, time responding to calls and encounters involving homelessness and mental health, among others, according to Wong.

BPD stopped Black and Hispanic individuals at higher rates than white and Asian individuals, according to the report. Black people accounted for 34% of stops made by BPD despite only making up 8% of the population, the report added.

According to Berkeley Copwatch volunteer Maria Yates, the findings are similar to a May 2018 report analyzing BPD conducted by the Center for Policing Equity. The older report found that Black individuals made up 36% of stops made by BPD despite comrpising 8% of the population.

“What this says to Berkeley Copwatch is that the Berkeley Police Department has made zero progress in addressing their pattern of racial discrimination against Black residents over the course of the last 10 years,” Yates said in an email. “What I believe this says to the community is that BPD knows this is a problem, it has been a problem, and the Police Department and the City do not care.”

According to Wong, the city auditor’s office did not provide policy recommendations due to the report’s focus on collecting data for city discussions. However, the office did identify areas that need improvement in data availability, including the difficulty in determining the frequency and time it takes for BPD officers to respond to calls involving homelessness and mental illness.

The audit will be presented to the city’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force this Thursday and to Berkeley City Council on May 11.

“This lack of accountability and recording keeping is completely in line with a city department that overspent it’s budget in fiscal year 2020 in excess of 5 million dollars with no consequences, most of which was in overtime spending,” Yates said in the email.

Contact Blake Evans at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Blake_J_Evans.