Berkeley City Council, Jan. 27, 2015. Photo: Emilie Raguso
The Berkeley City Council at a meeting in late January. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to ask the city manager to assess a long list of issues related to community-police relations and bring back a report on potential associated costs and related efforts that are already underway.

The broad package includes everything from changes in the way police handle the handcuffing and searches of people they stop to more training for police in racial sensitivity.

No action will be taken until the city manager’s office brings back the report, which is expected to take a significant amount of time.

“This is an enormous to-do list for the staff,” said Councilman Laurie Capitelli. “This is not weeks and weeks of work. This is months and months and months of work.”

Council voted earlier this month to support, in concept, having Berkeley police wear body cameras. The city manager’s office is also doing a cost analysis of that change, in addition to the cost of outfitting police cruisers with dashboard cameras.

Numerous members of the public testified before council Tuesday night about the need for changes due to what they believe is the disparate treatment of black people in the community as compared to white members of the public during police stops and in other contexts, such as municipal employment practices.

Some said they believe they were stopped for no reason other than race, or shared stories of interactions with police they thought had been influenced by the color of their skin. One woman said her son, who is white, had been found drinking with friends at Tilden by police. He had a gun in his pocket, but police simply drove him home.

“I was dumbfounded,” she told council. “And he even said to me afterwards, ‘I know, mom, if I had been black, I would have been put in jail.’”

Added Barbara White, a board member from the Berkeley NAACP: “People have to be seen as human beings and not dehumanized because of the color of their skin.”

Mansour Id-Deen, who runs the Berkeley NAACP, described the “over-policing in South Berkeley” as “horrendous.”

“I live in South Berkeley. I work in South Berkeley,” he said. “I’ve witnessed far too many incidents.… We certainly need to put an end to it.”

Speakers also referenced the police-related protests in Berkeley in December and said the city needs to take decisive measures to deal with issues of racial profiling, as well as disparities in the treatment of city employees who feel they have been limited in their career opportunities due to race.

Berkeley resident George Lippman, who serves on both the Peace & Justice and Police Review commissions, told council that the city needs to create “a broader racial justice plan for Berkeley to address underlying problems of disparities that go far beyond simply the problems with policing in Berkeley.”

At one point in the meeting, Mayor Tom Bates tried to streamline the list, to remove items he said he did not see as feasible as well as others he said were already being addressed. Other council members pushed back, and told him they thought it was too soon to remove any of the items from the list.

Councilman Max Anderson drafted his own suggestions for how the city should address perceived racial inequities in Berkeley after he said an earlier document failed to tackle the issue head on.

“The depth of this problem, it’s deep, it’s long, it’s longitudinal,” he said. “If we don’t craft responses to it that truly address the problem, we kick the can down the road.… We must seek to really address the problem and reverse some of the trends that we almost uniformly recognize are counterproductive and alienating to our people.”

In addition to the consideration of changing police practices regarding searches and handcuffing prior to arrest, Anderson also said the city should consider increasing its funding for mental health services and the creation of a task force to address ideas surfaced in January at a town hall meeting, as well as numerous suggestions that have come in recent years from the Berkeley NAACP to address racial disparities.

Anderson said, too, that it will be important to look closely at the police department’s Drug Task Force (DTF) to assess its practices and procedures, and whether significant changes need to be made to that body.

“The presence of DTF officers, driving in unmarked vans and dressed in paramilitary clothes, is perceived by many in the Black community as ‘menacing, threatening, and dangerous,’” he wrote. “The tactics of police stops are even more frightening to many witnesses.”

Anderson said he also hopes the city can consider strengthening the Police Review Commission to allow the panel to be more effective.

Elliot Halpern of the Berkeley/North East Bay chapter of the ACLU told council it will be critical for Berkeley to make changes: “Do whatever you have to do, but these issues have to be dealt with.”

Berkeley City Council limits police tear gas use, for now (02.11.15)
Berkeley town hall examines race, police relations (01.18.15)
‘Double header’ Berkeley council meetings set for Tuesday, 2 protests also planned (12.15.15)
Berkeley adopts anti-bias policing policy, commits to collecting data on race (06.19.14)
Report suggests new Berkeley anti-discrimination policies (06.11.14)
Community comes out for NAACP forum on alleged racial profiling by police (05.12.14)
Berkeley Police stop sparks racial controversy (05.09.14)
NAACP raises issues of race discrimination in Berkeley (12.11.13)
Berkeley to investigate claims of unfair employment (09.18.13)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...