Berkeley City Council hears $8 million proposal for police alternative

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Andrew Huang/Staff
Budget recommendations for fiscal year 2022 include allocation $8 million to the Berkeley Specialized Care Unit, which is a potential way for the city to address mental health crises without relying on its police force. The SCU is being further developed as a “community-informed” initiative.

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During Tuesday’s Berkeley City Council meeting, city deputy manager David White presented his office’s budget recommendations for fiscal year 2022. In the report, White said the city should allocate $8 million to expand its Specialized Care Unit, or SCU.

Approved by the council in June 2020, the SCU would be a way the city could address mental health crises without relying on its police force, according to the June resolution. Instead, a team of unarmed “crisis-workers” would respond to 911 calls deemed nonthreatening to first responders.

“A 24-week training academy cannot begin to cover the tools necessary to effectively handle the full gamut of non-violent and non-criminal incidences that arise,” the resolution reads.

In January, Berkeley contracted a team to develop a pilot model for the program for less than $200,000. Now, with the city approaching its June 29 deadline for adopting a budget, that figure could be more than 40 times greater in the upcoming fiscal year, according to White.

White said Berkeley could use the $60 million it will be getting from the American Rescue Plan to pay for the increase.

However, White said while the SCU is being further developed as a “community-informed” initiative, other programs could be immediately funded in the interim.

Of the $8 million proposed for the SCU, White said around $1 million should be set aside for helping Berkeley residents meet their basic needs. The city, alongside community organizations, would conduct wellness checks and provide food, shelter and clothing with the funding, White noted.

He also said some of the SCU funds should be used to hire two data analysts to help address biases in the police force, according to White.

“Our city manager has really listened to not just Council’s priorities, but also to the input we have heard from the Berkeley community,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín at the meeting. “That is reflected in the budget recommendations (City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley) is putting forward.”

In addition to the SCU, the council also discussed the Police Accountability Board.

Berkeley residents approved the creation of the board in November 2020 through Measure II. By July, the board will replace the city’s current police oversight group, the Police Review Commission.

The body will have more discretion to investigate complaints made against the Berkeley Police Department and make suggestions about its policies and budget, according to the measure. Arreguín noted the legacy of the Police Review Commission and its importance in police oversight.

“I really see this as an example of Berkeley, once again, really being at the forefront in leading the area of police reform,” Arreguín said at the meeting. “We hope to be able to continue that tradition with the work of the Police Accountability Board.”

Contact Tristan Shaughnessy at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @TristanShaughn2.