The new year comes underway, we have the opportunity to look closely and think critically about the progress we have made, or lack thereof. The murder of Tyre Nichols is just one of numerous police killings that have taken place so far this year. With each of these unjust deaths, we must ask ourselves the same question: are we moving forward, or backward?Have police killings of unarmed people decreased from previous years? Back in 2013, the same year that Kayla Moore was killed by Berkeley police, in response to many similar deaths, national accountability efforts began thoroughly tracking the data. In 2022, we reached a record high number in the U.S. One thousand one hundred and eighty six people were killed by police in the last year. As big a number as that is, it does nothing to communicate the tragedy of the loss, and the rippling effects of harm caused to loved ones and communities. Studies of municipalities across the U.S. show that from 2018 through 2022, police budgets have essentially remained the same. The violence that was a catalyst for the George Floyd protests has not changed, and our demands for defunding have not yet been realized.
On a local level, are we seeing changes? It depends on where you look.
Audits of the Berkeley Police Department published in the last two years help us see a clearer picture of the complex array of problems from fiscal irresponsibility, transparency and accountability, to racist policing in traffic stops and searches. The audits made recommendations to department policy, including improved data tracking, among other things. Of the twelve recommendations made in the March 2022 report by the city auditor, BPD has yet to start work on five. Further, many recommendations that were predicted to take 6 months to implement, have still not been implemented. This includes the recommendation to update the department overtime policy, to address the fact that there currently is no limit to the number of consecutive days worked. This is critical given the Department’s history of outspending their overtime budget by millions of dollars
These audits paint a bleak picture of the last few years. Traffic stop data show that from 2015 to 2019, 34% of people stopped by Berkeley police were Black, despite being only 8% of Berkeley population. In addition, Black and Latinx people stopped by police were most likely to be searched. What’s more – only 31.1% of police stops involving Black motorists and pedestrians resulted in arrest, compared to 60.4% of whites. This suggests Berkeley police department’s practices are racist, and a poor response to crime.
While the information we have is disturbing, it is also disturbing how much more we are lacking. The 2021 audit reported that policing data was not sufficient to analyze what percentage of calls BPD responded to involved a potential mental health crisis or someone who was unhoused. According to the auditor’s office BPD has started tracking calls for service related to either mental health or unhoused persons, following the audit’s recommendation. There is also mystery around how BPD officers act as private security. The auditor’s office found that BPD does not have policies or documentation for their contracts with outside entities. It is clear that the department not only lacks transparency and accountability to the people of Berkeley, but to their own colleagues and fellow city departments.
Due in large part to community organizing and the advocacy of organizations working with those most impacted by policing, Berkeley is finally moving towards a mental health crisis response model, the Specialized Care Unit pilot program. Yet, the police department’s budget has not been diminished at all to redirect city funds towards non-police violence prevention programs. The Police Accountability Board has formed a committee to investigate the leaked text messages by the BPD Bike Patrol that expose illegal arrest quotas. We are still waiting, with bated breath, to see if the PAB will exercise its potential power and fully investigate the allegations of racial profiling and arrest quotes.
It can seem sometimes that only some people in Berkeley care about who the police harm. Even when they get away with fleecing our city’s budget with abuse of overtime pay, year after year. Even when the Bike Patrol continues to harass those sheltering in cold weather on the sidewalks of Downtown Berkeley. Even when audits have proven that the police simply do not track the data needed to prove their wrongdoings.
We must continue to channel our anger to fight for change.
Get active. Be aware. Refuse to be abused.
Berkeley Copwatch is an all-volunteer organization with the goal to reduce police violence through direct observation and holding police accountable for their actions. Formed in 1990, they seek to educate the public about their rights, police conduct in the Berkeley community and issues related to the role of police in our society at large. For more information visit www.berkeleycopwatch.org.