The Berkeley City Council, Dec. 15, 2020. Photo: COB/Berkeleyside

Officials are forging ahead with efforts to reimagine policing in Berkeley and voted unanimously Tuesday night to launch a new community task force focused on that work in January.

The Berkeley City Council also voted Tuesday to hire the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform to oversee the upcoming community process, which is slated to last through June 2022, according to documents from the meeting. Officials approved the $270,000 contract on the consent calendar.

The Oakland-based nonprofit, run by former Alameda County probation chief David Muhammad, is overseeing a similar police reform initiative in that city, according to Tuesday’s staff report. The group plans to seek additional funding for its work in Berkeley from philanthropic sources.

In July, the Berkeley City Council approved a range of reforms, in concept, to transform policing in Berkeley and reduce disparities in response to the wave of national protests following the killing of George Floyd and other high-profile in-custody deaths across the nation this year.

Berkeley officials pledged at that time to launch a robust community process and investigate how to shift certain resources and duties, such as nonviolent mental health calls and traffic stops, away from the police department. They also asked the city auditor’s office to review police calls for service, overtime and a variety of other operations to see how things work now and what might be improved.

In the months that followed, city staff has been laying the groundwork for those initiatives and City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley has provided regular updates about them during each City Council meeting. Memos about those updates are also posted on the city website.

On Tuesday night, as part of that work, Williams-Ridley said, the city attorney’s office identified 47 claims related to police misconduct dating back to 2010. Those claims resulted in 23 settlements totalling about $300,000. During the same period, staff identified 61 police-related auto-accident claims resulting in settlements of about $623,000. Legal fees for both types of settlements tallied about $290,000.

According to materials from Tuesday’s meeting, the new Reimagining Public Safety Task Force will include representatives appointed by each council member and the mayor, as well as representatives appointed by several city commissions, the Associated Students of the University of California, and a community group called the Berkeley Community Safety Coalition. There will also be three “at large” appointees, for a total of 17 members.

The city plans to launch an application process to select interested parties, and staff from multiple city departments and the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform will guide the process.

On Tuesday night, city officials also unanimously approved an updated use-of-force policy for police after several months of negotiations and work by the Berkeley Police Department and the Police Review Commission. Council ultimately approved the PRC’s proposed policy but changed several words on the dais to make it clear there could be a range of appropriate responses when police officers need to use force to make an arrest or in other law enforcement situations.

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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...