Berkeley City Council Will Study 50% Slash of Police Budget

The politically liberal city of Berkeley, pictured here on July 18, 2019, has adopted a proposal to shift traffic enforcement from armed police to unarmed city workers. Supporters say the separation would curb racial profiling and reduce police encounters that can turn deadly, especially for Black motorists. The proposal that went before the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday is believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

BERKELEY, Calif. (CN) — Early Wednesday morning, after a nine-hour virtual meeting that drew hundreds of callers, the city council of Berkeley, California, agreed to explore drastic budget cuts for city police.

Council member Cheryl Davila, author of the proposal to reduce the Berkeley police department budget by half, said during the meeting that the public is clearly behind her proposition, pointing to the 700-plus emails sent in support of it.

“Now is the time for change,” Davila said during the meeting. “This item that I put forward is what the community really wants.”

Backed by the Black Lives Matter movement, city budget reforms have gained traction in communities across the country in recent months following protests fueled by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

The budgetary change was one of five separate proposals from different council members considered at the meeting that directly related to the function and scope of police in the city. Setting up a new traffic-enforcement program, one that would no longer involve police participation, was another significant proposal.

In a city of 121,363 — where the Black population is just over 8% — hundreds of participants ended up joining the remotely held meeting, with many throwing their support behind the idea that law enforcement is in desperate need of fundamental change.

“It’s now clear that America’s police problem is not just a few bad apples in the barrel, it’s the barrel that is rotten. Law enforcement institutions are rotten,” one caller said.

Another caller more focused on the budgetary ramifications of Tuesday’s motions, specifically mentioned the importance of repurposing funds from the police department to other programs or resources that the callers felt would be crucial for community health.

“We should be investing in our community, not investing in subduing our community,” one caller said.

For many of the participants, however, the message for the City Council was a singular and simple one: act. Despite where they stood on the individual motions being presented, many callers simply asked the council to simply stoop kicking the can down the road and take at least some meaningful steps to enact change in how Berkeley manages its police force.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín called the level of participation at the meeting unprecedented. It lasted roughly nine hours, not concluding until 3 a.m., with no shortage of contention.

None of the five motions passed individually in their original forms, but, with a single member abstaining, the council ultimately approved an omnibus motion proposed by Arreguín that partially adopted elements from all five. Among these reforms, the proposal to reduce the police department’s budget by half will hinge on the results of upcoming police data analysis studies.

The omnibus motion also includes language that considers transitioning certain community responsibilities away from the police, for example shifting wellness checks or calls related to homelessness to other agencies that may be capable of handling them.

While supporters of this omnibus motion felt like it was a successful collection of all five motions, others felt like it took some of the teeth out of the original proposals.

When the omnibus motion was put to a successful vote, Davila remarked that she did not believe that was what the public wanted.

Before the law enforcement reform proposals could even be discussed or put to a vote, some participants voiced frustration during the meeting over the other items on the council’s agenda. Some public callers into the meeting voiced concern that the council was discussing items they feel were not as significant as the law enforcement issues, such as the council’s discussion over a proposed letter of support to a local zoo.

Other callers on the meeting also spent much of their time expressing disapproval that a motion by Davila — one to hold a vote of no confidence for the Berkley police chief — failed because no other council member chose to second it.

Tuesday’s meeting largely concluded with expressions from council members to continue to work on police reform and racial-equality goals moving forward.

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