Story at a glance
- Black drivers are stopped by police, as well as searched, at higher rates than white drivers nationwide, including in California.
- Police in Berkeley will no longer make stops for low-level offenses and make traffic stops based primarily on safety.
- The change is part of a larger package of legislation reforming historically racist law enforcement practices.
The city of Berkeley, Calif., is joining others across the country in reimagining the role of law enforcement in the community, starting with police stops.
"Berkeley is not immune from our nation’s reckoning with systemic racism," said Mayor Jesse Arreguin in a series of posts on Twitter.
Fortunately, Berkeley is a community united in its commitment to equal justice.— Jesse Arreguin #MaskOnToMoveOn (@JesseArreguin) February 24, 2021
That makes us uniquely positioned to take on an issue that has been used to divide communities elsewhere.
READ MORE LIKE THIS FROM CHANGING AMERICA
Black people are more than six times more likely to be stopped by the Berkeley Police Department than white people while driving, said Arreguin, citing the Center on Policing Equity, and over four times more likely to be stopped while on foot. Black and Hispanic drivers are also more likely to be searched by police in these stops, the research found.
Across the country, Black drivers are about 20 percent more likely than white drivers to be pulled over, research shows. In California, they accounted for about 15 percent of traffic stops in the second half of 2018, despite making up just 6 percent of the population.
The new legislation ends police stops for low-level offenses, such as not wearing a seatbelt or having expired license tags, that don't affect public safety. Police will need written consent for searches and no longer ask for parole or probation status.
The city is also adopting a number of additional law enforcement reforms that go beyond stops, including an independent board for oversight, an early intervention system for officer misconduct and a strict termination policy against officers who post racist content online. Embracing the ideology behind "defund the police," Berkeley is investing in a specialized care unit to respond to mental health calls as well as transferring traffic enforcement duties to trained civilians.
Change isn’t coming without opposition, however, including from the police union representing rank-and-file officers.
“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,” Sgt. Darren Kacelek, president of the Berkeley Police Association said in a statement.
THE LATEST ON THE BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT