Police groups in California’s Bay Area are horrified by the Berkeley City Council to slash the city’s massive police budget in half. The council’s unanimous decision to slice the city’s police department $72 million budget would mean that police officers would no longer be required to stop citizens for low-level violations. Berkeley would also demand that racists officers be removed from their positions in the sweeping overhaul that is coming.

The budget will be reduced from $72 million to $36 million in the coming months following the City Council’s unanimous vote to reform the police department. And to lead the effort in reducing the police footprint, the City Council appointed a task force to oversee the changes.

Police budges across the United States are being reduced as a direct result of the national reckoning following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Floyd was an unarmed Black man who died after a police officer knelt on his throat for nine minutes. During the assault, Floyd repeatedly alerted officers that he could not breathe; yet, they continued to choke him until he died.

With a reduced budget in the Berkeley Police Department, it is not likely that officers will be motivated to follow through with the sweeping reforms. Instead, resistance may arise from inside the department as morale drops amid the department’s reduction in power.

Berkeley’s changes include the inclusion of an “Early Intervention System.” This would remove racist officers from duty and demand written consent prior to the execution of searches. It would also remove traffic duty from the list of responsibilities for police officers, giving the task to unarmed civil servants. The task force will also examine the legality of firing police officers who post racist or hateful content online.

The California city will also end all traffic stops except for those related to public safety.

In response to these progressive changes, the Berkeley Police Association released a statement expressing their fear about making the reforms. The BPA worried there might be “significant safety consequences for citizens and officers” if the changes are made.

“At stake is the safety of Berkeley citizens and its police officers as the proposed reforms will turn officers into filing clerks, gutting their much-needed time on the streets within our community,” BPA President Sgt Darren Kacelek said.

However, the city did work with Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood and Oakland Police Captain Chris Bolton while making the changes.

“We work within policies and the law to make sure we don’t have racist officers,” Police Chief Greenwood said.

Meanwhile, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin is optimistic that the police reforms will make Berkeley a safer community for all residents – not just whites.

“It’s important to acknowledge that last year there were a lot of conversations about reimagining public safety,” the mayor told the Chronicle. “Millions of people took to the streets to demand change. We have not seen the kind of big transformative change that people called for. It’s significant that we are still moving this forward.”

What do you think about this sweeping police reform?

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