BERKELEY, Calif. - The Berkeley city council voted unanimously Tuesday night to implement a package of police reforms -- including banning officers from stopping drivers for low-level offenses -- aimed at reducing racial disparities in policing.
The reforms follow earlier efforts by the city to reimagine the role law enforcement following high-profile police killings around the country.
Mayor Jesse Arreguin has advocated for the changes following a report by the non-profit Center for Policing Equity that found black people were six-and-a-half times more likely to be stopped while driving than white people.
The report found that Hispanics were twice as likely to be stopped than white people. What’s more, African Amercians were searched four times more often, and Hispanics were searched three times more often, than white people, according to the report.
"Traffic stops are the most common form of police interaction," Arreguin told KTVU in an interview before Tuesday’s vote. "We think this will not only reduce racial disparities in stops, but allow police to focus on more serious and dangerous behavior."
The union representing rank-and-file officers opposed the new reforms. In a statement Tuesday night, Berkeley Police Association president Sgt. Darren Kacelek said the new measures would "endanger safety."
"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," Kacelek said in a statementurging the council to reject the reforms, shortly before the vote.
The reforms include barring police from pulling someone over for low level offenses like having expired license plate tags, a broken tail light or a seat belt violation.
Officers will not be allowed to ask about a person’s probation or parole status without an underlying reason. Police will be required to get written – rather than just verbal consent – for warrant-less searches.
And the department will review officers’ social media accounts for racist content – a reform that officials said was important following the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. It was later revealed that some of the insurrectionists were off-duty law enforcement officers.
The reforms are the latest effort by the city of Berkeley to undertake reforms following the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last year. In July, the city council voted to strip more than $9 million out of the police department’s budget.
And in November, voters approved forming an independent civilian Police Accountability Board to serve as a police watch-dog agency.
The board would oversee the department’s progress in meeting its benchmarks in undertaking the reforms.
"I think this is a start and ultimately we’re going to have to keep working at it until people become woke so to speak," said Mansour Id-Deen, president of the Berkeley branch of the NAACP.
He’s lived in south Berkeley for more than 25 years and worked on the reform recommendations. He said neighborhoods like his have long been over-policed and community relations are much different with law enforcement than in other parts of the city.
"People have always looked at Berkeley as a city that would put forth progressive policies and we want to get back to that."
Evan Sernoffsky is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email Evan at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EvanSernoffsky