Reimagining public safety remains a priority for Berkeley City Council

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Last year, the city of Berkeley took bold steps to transform its approach to public safety. That work continues with many concrete changes underway. I appreciate The Daily Californian’s editorial board for raising the issue of police funding in its recent editorial, but I must make some corrections. The budget is a reflection of our community’s values, and as the mayor of Berkeley, I want to make it clear that my proposed budget recommendations, which are still in development, will take into consideration the voices and needs of our community.

The editorial postured that the budget presented was proposed by the mayor and Berkeley City Council. That is incorrect. By law, the city manager presents a proposed budget in May of each year, and then the City Council considers the budget and makes adjustments. While I appreciate that the city manager has proposed freezing certain police positions to respect the reimagining process, I am concerned about the significant amount of money requested for police overtime and the need for investments in alternatives to policing.

Comparing the proposed fiscal year 2022 police budget to fiscal year 2021’s is misleading given that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in cuts for every single department. When compared to fiscal year 2020, the proposed budget for the police is down. Comparatively, most city departments had their budget increased between those two years. While the proposed budget for the Berkeley Police Department does account for 33% of the general fund, it only makes up 13% of the city’s total proposed budget, down from 15% in fiscal year 2020. City Council is now taking a close look at the police budget and is considering what further changes should be made.

The process of reimagining and restructuring public safety is not one that happens overnight. In addition to continuing our extensive community outreach, some ideas cannot move forward without action from the California State Legislature, namely civilizing traffic enforcement. I am hopeful this will change next year, but this is why no funding has yet been allocated for the envisioned Berkeley Department of Transportation.

It is inaccurate to claim that the City Council “has offered no concrete strategy to address the racial disparities” in the city’s policing. In February, City Council unanimously approved the Fair and Impartial Policing Working Group’s recommendations to address disparities. Under the plans outlined in the recommendations, police in Berkeley will not stop drivers and bicyclists for low-level, non-safety-related violations. This can help reduce pretext stops and racial disparities because traffic stops are the most common instance of police-civilian interaction in Berkeley. These recommendations were developed over the past year in partnership with community leaders and were inspired by the best practices implemented locally and throughout the country.

More funding will be available for homeless services and community programs that are not currently listed in the proposed budget. This is because we will be receiving $66.6 million from the American Rescue Plan, and this resource will be incorporated into the budget once staff members have developed a better understanding of what expenses and city services these funds can be applied to.

Additionally, I am pleased to announce we will include $8 million for a Specialized Care Unit so we can launch that critical program next year. We are also planning to invest in child care, jobs, mental health, public health and violence prevention programs to help promote a safer, healthier community.

I look forward to continuing discussions and hearing from the community. For more information on the budget and for opportunities to provide feedback, visit the city’s budget webpage.

Jesse Arreguín is the mayor of Berkeley. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.