City Council approves Berkeley police state-funded traffic safety grant

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Nora Povejsil/Staff
The $180,000 state-funded grant will support a variety of traffic safety-focused programs including DUI checkpoints and patrols, enforcement operations for drivers violating California’s hands-free cellphone law and collaborative enforcement efforts with neighboring agencies.

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The Berkeley City Council approved a $180,000 state-funded grant for the Berkeley Police Department, or BPD, on Nov. 9 to bolster traffic safety efforts.

The yearlong grant was awarded to BPD by the California Office of Traffic Safety, or OTS, according to a city of Berkeley press release. It is for the 2022 federal fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2022.

BPD will use the grant to field additional officers, who will help prevent deaths and injuries on Berkeley roadways, attend DUI-related training sessions and provide traffic safety presentations to the community, the city press release said.

“Unsafe driving behavior continues to be the primary cause of collisions in the City of Berkeley,” said BPD Lieutenant Jen Tate in the city press release. “We are committed to using equitable, data driven intelligence to provide both education and enforcement to support the city’s goal of eliminating fatal and serious collisions on Berkeley roadways.”

The grant will fund several traffic safety-focused programs, including DUI checkpoints and patrols, enforcement operations for drivers violating California’s hands-free cellphone law and collaborative enforcement efforts with neighboring agencies, among others, according to the city press release.

OTS Public Information Officer Tim Weisberg said in an email the grant is typically awarded to cities that demonstrate both a traffic safety issue as well as a clear plan to address it. He noted Berkeley fit these requirements following a 2018 review that ranked the city number one for rates of crashes involving pedestrians, bicyclists and pedestrians aged 65 and older.

The grant aims to make Berkeley residents, specifically those who walk or bike, feel safer in the city, according to Weisberg.

“We would hope (Berkeley residents) want their communities to feel safe,” Weisberg said in an email. “To not be afraid of getting hit by a car on a bike or walking. The goal is to change behaviors so drivers are aware of bicyclists and pedestrians which ultimately makes Berkeley a safer place to get around, no matter how you choose to do that.”

BPD currently monitors traffic safety through its Traffic Bureau, which is staffed by one motor officer, traffic data analyst, sergeant and lieutenant, according to a Berkeley City Council report about the grant. Resources required to ensure traffic safety often deplete rapidly due to ancillary duties and personnel shortages.

The OTS grant will bolster BPD’s traffic safety efforts by providing more opportunities for patrol and motor officers to address traffic safety issues, the report said.

Our vision is a California where everyone will go safely, whether that’s on a bike, walking or driving,” Weisberg said in an email. “We need public buy in to the benefits of slowing down, allowing bicyclists and pedestrians to co-exist on the road and the importance of keeping safety top of mind so everyone can get to where they need to go safely.”

Contact Phoebe Chen at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @ph0ebechen.