Berkeley Police Department’s patrol teams will move to a 14-beat map down from 16 on April 1, 2023.

With staffing levels languishing at dramatic lows, the Berkeley Police Department is cutting its patrol beats from 16 to 14 starting Saturday.

The new configuration means the department’s patrol teams will all have fewer officers it must put on the streets.

“The new beat map was based on data analysis and a collaborative review by members of the police department, our Strategic Analysis Unit and the Berkeley Police Association,” City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley wrote Wednesday to Mayor Jesse Arreguín and the City Council.

“The working group optimized beat boundaries for balanced officer workloads by considering the geography of calls for service volume, the time required of officers on scene to respond, and the resulting time associated with those calls,” Williams-Ridley said. The new configuration “prioritized neighborhood coherence” and “efficient travel routes within beats.”

Geographically speaking, the largest shift in beats was in the city’s northeastern corner, where most of what used to be three beats will comprise what will now be most of two, according to maps of the old and new beats.

Berkeley Police Department patrol officers were previously spread out across 16 geographical beats.

The patrol teams split the week, with four teams working staggered 10-hour shifts Monday through Thursday and the other three staggered 12½-hour shifts Friday through Sunday.

During most of each day, the teams’ schedules overlap so that all beats are filled, but patrol officers sometimes work more than one beat at once, and officers on other assignments, such as with the bike unit, supplement the patrol teams, Perry said.

The police department, the city’s strategic analysis unit and the Berkeley Police Association, the union that represents city officers, worked together on the new beat map, Williams-Ridley said.

The department and union also hammered out the minimum staffing numbers “based on data analysis and a collaborative review by all involved parties,” Perry said.

The department’s previous minimum staffing number was 60 sworn officers across the seven patrol shifts, according to a 2022 report from city auditors.

At the time, auditors determined that vacancies and absences were the leading drivers of department overtime, and that throughout the department, “officers work excessive overtime, increasing health and safety risks.”

The auditors’ conclusions underscored what police officials have since continued to report: The department is woefully short on officers.

“Persistent backfilling indicates a chronic shortage of personnel in relation to the minimum staffing requirements,” the auditors wrote. “BPD’s minimum staffing levels are untenable without overtime to backfill vacancies and absences.”

Of the 181 sworn officers the department is authorized to employ and 176 for which it is budgeted, it has only 151 on staff, and some of those are on leave or in training, police Capt. Michael Durbin reported earlier in March. The shortages are likely to continue since nearly a third of the department’s sworn officers are eligible to retire within 10 years, and the recruitment and training process for new officers can take over a year.

At one point, the department had instituted mandatory overtime to make sure they hit their staffing benchmarks, according to the auditors’ report. They have since been able to fill patrol teams with officers volunteering for overtime, Perry said.

Projections on how much the new assignments will save in overtime costs were not immediately available.

“At face value, one body was cut from each patrol team, seven bodies a week, this in (itself) is a cost-saving,” Perry said.

The police department is working to hire analysts to conduct a staffing study, a move city auditors recommended in their 2022 report. Once a firm is hired, the study itself should take between nine months to a year, Perry said.

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Alex N. Gecan joined Berkeleyside in 2023 as a senior reporter covering public safety. He has covered criminal justice, courts and breaking and local news for The Middletown Press, Stamford Advocate and...