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Berkeley Votes To Replace Police With Unarmed City Workers in Traffic Stops

July 15, 2020 by Gaspard Le Dem
Berkeley Votes To Replace Police With Unarmed City Workers in Traffic Stops
Downtown Berkeley viewed from the Berkeley Hills, with the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and San Francisco in the background. (Photo via Wikipedia Commons)

The city of Berkeley in Northern California will become the first U.S. city to remove police from traffic stops in an effort to reduce racial profiling and avoid deadly run-ins between law enforcement and Black drivers.

On Wednesday morning, the Berkeley City Council passed a sweeping set of police reforms that included a resolution to shift traffic enforcement away from police officers and into the hands of unarmed city workers.

The measure, introduced by Councilmember Rigel Robinson, was approved by all but one legislator in a 3 a.m. vote that followed several hours of public testimony. It comes in the wake of an examination of racial injustice throughout the country following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Known as “BerkDOT: Reimagining Transportation for a Racially Just Future”, the resolution will create a new department of transportation to “ensure a racial justice lens in traffic enforcement and the development of transportation policy, programs, and infrastructure.”

It comes as part of a larger bid to transform policing in Berkeley, a bastion of liberal politics that is often at the forefront of progressive legislation in America. Earlier in July, the council voted to slash the budget for the city’s police department by more than $9 million — or roughly 12% — by the next fiscal year.

“Berkeley residents have made it clear that the current model of policing is not working for our city,” said Robinson in a statement. “I’m grateful to have worked with policing and transportation advocates in our community to put forward this proposal, and I’m excited to continue the conversation on reimagining public safety and reducing the role of police in our lives — starting with the way we conduct enforcement on our streets.” 

A 24-year-old graduate from UC Berkeley, Robinson was elected to the city council in 2018 on a platform that prioritized issues related to affordable housing, climate change, and community safety.

His legislation cited several recent shootings of Black drivers by police that renewed public scrutiny of traffic enforcement policies in America. “The headline ‘routine traffic stop turns deadly’ has become all too common in this country,” the resolution said. “Coupled with the racial biases that permeate this country to this day, these stops have too often escalated into use of force or unnecessary arrests that disproportionately harm Black Americans.”

In 2017, Philando Castile was fatally shot by a police officer in Minnesota during a routine traffic stop many experts said should not have turned deadly. Most recently, Maurice Gordon, a 28-year-old unarmed Black man, was fatally shot after being pulled over for speeding by a White state trooper in New Jersey.

Research shows that police stop Black motorists at disproportionately high rates, and that the encounters are more likely to result in violent arrests.

A 2019 study by the Stanford Open Policing Project found that Black drivers are 20% more likely to get pulled over than white drivers. The survey examined nearly 100 million traffic stops from 50 different law enforcement agencies between 2001 and 2017.

“We can no longer ignore the coercive, and sometimes violent nature of policing,” said Nathan Mizell, vice-chair of Berkeley’s Police Review Commission, an independent agency that oversees the local police department. “BerkDOT gives our community an opportunity to honestly address the disparate impacts of policing in transportation and implement new public safety solutions that allow all those who come to Berkeley to walk, bike, and commute safely.”

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