Berkeley considers stripping cops from traffic stops

It would be a drastic new approach to car stops in Berkeley. Instead of armed police officers pulling over bad drivers, city transportation workers would be the ones handing out tickets - and tackling a larger mandate.

Those workers would "address many of the issues in terms of equity, and in terms of transportation equity that policing simply doesn't address," said Nathan Mizell, a member of the Berkeley Police Review Commission who supports the proposal.

"We see racial disparities in terms of stops across the country and in California, and they are especially bad in Berkeley, in terms of stops of Black and Latinx individuals," Mizell said.

Berkeley's proposal is part of a national movement to redefine policing.

In Berkeley, attitudes toward the police are most certainly mixed. Overnight, protesters vandalized the police department, spray-painting anti-police messages on a building named after Ronald Tsukamoto, a rookie Berkeley officer shot and killed in 1970 after a traffic stop.

It's this anti-police sentiment that has many believing that stripping police from traffic stops is the right thing to do.

"In the vast majority of cases, an unarmed individual can lead to a better outcome than someone who's armed and can only write you a ticket," Mizell said.

Berkeley police officials declined to comment on the proposal, saying the department does not comment on council legislation.

But police Sgt. Emily Murphy, president of the Berkeley Police Association had plenty of questions about the proposal. 

"What if a driver is DUI?" Murphy asked. "What if a driver is combative? What if a driver does not pull over? What if a driver is armed with a weapon?"
Murphy said removing police from the equation doesn't make sense.

She says many in the community want more traffic enforcement, not less.

"I hope that council's considering that we have a fair amount of fatal and serious injury collisions in our city," she said. "Council's proposal is not in the best interests of the community's safety or the safety of the officers doing the job."