‘Step it up’: Berkeley community opposes lack of public safety funds in budget proposal

Photo of copwatch protest
Ryan Kendrick/Staff
Community groups assembled at Berkeley City Hall to express their frustration at the city manager's proposed 2022 budget. The current proposal increases the police budget, whereas community groups have called for the police department to be defunded.

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As the clock struck noon, a coalition of community groups assembled on the steps of Berkeley City Hall to express disappointment and anger toward the city manager’s proposed budget for the 2022 fiscal year.

Rather than defunding the police as community members had called for back in July 2020, the proposal increased the Berkeley Police Department’s budget and left the topic of reimagining public safety up in the air, according to Maria Yates, a Berkeley Copwatch volunteer.

Yates, who was also the event moderator, began the press conference with a quote from Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín that she said sums up “why we are here.”

“We do need to defund the police, and we need to reinvest money from our police budget into other community priorities, including expanding mental health outreach and treatment, services for our homeless, housing and services that specifically address the needs of our Brown and Black communities,” Yates said, quoting Arreguín’s words from the July 1, 2020, City Council meeting in which the FY 2021 budget was voted on.

During the meeting, hundreds of community members participated in public comment, urging City Council members to defund the police department, Yates said.

Though they couldn’t directly alter the budget at that time, the council allocated a $100,000 “down payment” toward a city police audit, Yates added. However, the city did not reallocate 50% of BPD’s budget or develop a Specialized Care Unit, or SCU, to respond to noncriminal police service calls, two of their eight goals for reimagining public safety.

All that is listed in the budget under the amount of funding prioritized for “Public Safety Reimagining” is “TBD.”

“They say this budget is just the very first draft, but how do you draft something that doesn’t even refer to the service we are asking to be funded upward of $3 million?” Yates said. “$3 million is not chump change.”

Though it cannot be found in the proposal, Arreguín said the council has been “hard at work” developing “transformative” models for policing, including an SCU which he is fully committed to funding. The Reimagining Public Safety Task Force is also aiming to make their recommendations by August for November budget decisions.

In the meantime, Yates said City Council can expect to see advocates on the steps of City Hall every Wednesday at noon until change is enacted.

“Last summer when George Floyd was murdered, so many took to the streets and expressed their grief and anger,” Yates said. “I would implore people to find that anger again, to find that indignation over being consistently ignored by our city council and harassed, targeted and even killed by our own police department because that reality has not disappeared for our Black community and for our Brown community and for our Indigenous community and so we have to step it up.”

Contact Veronica Roseborough at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @v_roseborough.