After a summer of protests and widespread awakenings, Berkeley is finally taking a stance to hold their police system to a higher standard of conduct. On the ballot this November is an attempt to reform the city’s police misconduct complaint system for the first time since 1973. Berkeley’s Measure II would establish an independent Police Accountability Board and director in order to expand the city’s powers in investigating police conduct and recommending much-needed discipline in extreme cases of unlawfulness. Voting YES on this amendment is essential in building trust in the police system and weeding out racial discrimination. As stated in Berkeley’s Argument in Favor of Measure II, the amendment would work to “protect civil rights and liberties and address racial and other disparities.”
Among other things, Measure II would provide resources for the new board to look into claims against police officers and propose policy changes based on these complaints, in order to promote impartial policing. Racial profiling and discrimination is one of the main issues with policing across the country, creating a divide between the police and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. In order to have a fully effective policing system, there needs to be a bond between the community and the police department, which this amendment helps promote.
In the past, Berkeley’s system of dealing with filed complaints against police officers has left something to be desired. The 120 day deadline to notify the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) of police misconduct is much shorter than in other cities, leading to many complaints going unnoticed because they missed the timeframe. When examining the authenticity of a complaint, the current standard is that the evidence given must be deemed “clear and convincing,” and that whoever is processing the complaint must have a firm belief that it is true. If this evidence is not deemed “clear and convincing,” the accuser will be shot down and their claims pushed aside, leaving a dangerous opportunity for bias. The proposed amendment would double the number of days for filing a complaint, as well as opt for a more reasonable standard of proof: “preponderance of evidence.” This implies that the evidence simply has to be more likely than not to be true, which cuts out a great deal of possible subjectivity.
Measure II does have possible drawbacks in terms of efficaciousness and fiscal impacts. The new program would be adding an extra three hundred thousand dollars per year to the Police Accountability Board budget, only 0.5 percent of the BPD’s current budget. Although it seems unfair and frustrating that the BPD needs even more money to fix their multimillion dollar system, the additional funds are necessary in order to create a trusting relationship between the police and the people. As for the effectiveness of the charter amendment, although the effect may not be immediately noticeable, over time the proposed plan should do a better job of confronting and dealing with racial discrimination claims than the current system.
Although the Bay Area is relatively progressive in terms of police reform and communication, racial profiling and police abuse exist and continue to disproportionately affect BIPOC communities. According to a 2020 data analysis in the Bay Area, African American people are four times more likely to be arrested than white people. In Berkeley, they make up only 8.1 percent of the population, but are eight times more likely to be arrested than white people. These numbers aren’t just a coincidence; they’re the result of a systematic racism that needs to be recognized and acted against in order to be fixed. Berkeley already has training systems in place to recognize and reduce racial bias as well as teach crisis intervention skills, but clearly this is still not enough. The newest charter amendment is a step in the right direction in creating laws in order to further reduce police misconduct.
Vote YES on Measure II to significantly increase Berkeley police accountability and address racial disparities, creating a safer and more equitable environment for everyone.