Opinion: It’s time to end the violence in West and South Berkeley

Problem-oriented policing is precisely what District 2 Councilmember Terry Taplin’s plan for a Flex Team is intended to achieve.

Shootings in West and South Berkeley are out of control and we are calling on you, our fellow residents, to support a plan to stop the violence.

Our resilient community has in the past rallied together to address the violence that has plagued our beloved city. Years ago, the Friends of Strawberry Creek Park partnered with Councilmember Darryl Moore and subject matter experts to address gang violence. It’s time to rally together against violence once more.

Most residents imagine that the police know where problems are likely to occur and can partner with community members to intervene and prevent violence before the bullets start flying. That’s called problem-oriented policing, and it is state of the art for public safety. But it’s not the state of policing in Berkeley. That needs to change.

Problem-oriented policing is precisely what District 2 Councilmember Terry Taplin’s plan for a Flex Team is intended to achieve. Berkeley can’t implement it yet because Berkeley Police Department’s staffing is at its lowest levels in over a decade, and officers are logging lots of overtime reacting to cases. We must invest in full-time staffing so that police officers can do their best work on the clock and for more to do it investigating, solving, and preventing serious crimes.

The stakes have never been higher. Late last month, armed robbers invaded a home in South Berkeley and shot two residents, leaving them wounded before fleeing. On March 26, a shooting in broad daylight next to Berkeley Bowl West left a man with a leg injury. Earlier that same month, Anthony Joshua Fisher was shot and tragically killed at Seventh and Addison.

We believe opponents of Councilmember Taplin’s proposal for problem-oriented policing are generally against it because it would provide institutional support to the police department. Many likely would oppose any proposal that gives any resources to the police whatsoever, even as other cities have retreated from such an approach. By way of alternatives, opponents have tended to offer vague gestures toward a Ceasefire program, which, by the way, Councilmember Taplin helped to fund.

Ceasefire, along with the SARA model (Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment) for the proposed Flex Team, were recommended by the Reimagining Public Safety Consultant’s New and Emerging Models for Community Safety and Policing report. Opponents often point to the Reimagining process as a red herring to justify more delay, navel-gazing, and inaction, but other recommendations including a mental health crisis response team are focused on diverting non-violent calls for service to other social services. These are plainly not adequate solutions for ongoing gun violence and other violent crimes: When our neighbors get shot, we are going to call the police first, period. No amount of alternate services will change that. We need the police to be able to respond quickly and solve the problems they are best equipped to solve.

It’s time to set ideological blinders aside, tune out the scaremongering, and let the data speak. The data tell a clear story: Berkeley police fire their guns very rarely. For example, in January 2021, officers shot and wounded a man in response to a robbery call, the first time that had happened since 2012. In 2010, Berkeley police shot and killed Choung Van Nguyen, who allegedly pulled a gun on them after a car chase following a hit-and-run. The overall use of force has been exceedingly rare and thoroughly, transparently investigated in recent years. While more accountability and transparency can always help, it is clear that this is a highly professional police department that works hard to minimize the use of force, and would be welcomed in our communities with open arms as they work to investigate and prevent violent crimes.

Berkeley can’t fix the problems of other cities, let alone the whole world. But we can and must solve the problems we do have in Berkeley. We urge you readers and every member of the City Council to support these common-sense public safety measures, including the Flex Team proposal.

Claudia Kawczynska serves as the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Commissioner for District 2; Arabelle Malinis is a trust and estates and civil rights attorney; Mark Humbert is an employee benefits lawyer and a commissioner on Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices/Open Government Commission; Tam Crane works for Dropbox managing enterprise client relationships.