The Berkeley Police Department presented 2020-21 crime and use of force data and lobbied the Berkeley City Council to authorize the creation of 25 new officer and 7 dispatch positions at a special meeting Tuesday.
Violent crime has decreased in the last two years in Berkeley. At 536 violent crimes last year, Berkeley proved more dangerous than Fremont which had 407 the same year. However, Berkeley’s 2020 violent crime numbers were lower than Oakland’s, which reported 5,653, and Richmond’s, which reported 1,074. However, hate crimes, auto theft and shootings are on the rise in Berkeley, according to BPD’s presentation.
The presentation also revealed the BPD pulled over a disproportionate number of Black drivers for traffic violations. Only 8% of Berkeley’s population is Black, yet 36.58% of people BPD stopped in the last year were Black. By contrast, 59% of Berkeley’s population is white, but made up only 34.66% of people BPD stopped last year.
Data from the presentation also showed a racial disparity in use of force. Of those with whom BPD used force, 43.07% were Black, 26.22% were white and 19.85% were Hispanic.
After the presentation, Councilmember Lori Droste asked BPD Chief Jennifer Louis how the council could help reimagine the department.
“Hold us accountable, but also support us in the work that we do,” Louis said during the meeting.
In part, Louis referred to the fact that BPD’s staff has shrunk in the last year. BPD employed 170 officers in 2020. The council authorized BPD to have 157 this year, but due to vacancies, it has only 149 active officers, according to Michael Durbin, BPD captain of operations.
Louis added understaffing causes BPD to take officers off specific assignments to fill vacant patrol positions, which decreases response times and quality of service. She said when she started at BPD, there were more than 200 active officers, but she would like to return to pre-pandemic numbers.
Droste voiced support for hiring more staff to implement a progressive and data-driven police force. Louis promised the council would “see tangible results,” and noted that BPD is following through with recent reforms aimed at achieving fair and impartial policing.
“We can have adequate staffing for our police department to better serve our community and we can invest in alternative responders,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín during the meeting. “I don’t think those two are mutually exclusive.”
City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley told the council she plans to present the “reimagining police” package at one of their regular meetings this December. The package will be made public Oct. 29 and the city will hold three public meetings to solicit community feedback, according to Williams-Ridley.