In November of 2022, recently fired Berkeley Police Department (BPD) officer Corey Shedoudy leaked a series of texts from the BPD Bike Task Force. These texts included officers joking about a hypothetical disease that could wipe out the homeless population in Berkeley and alluded to a possible arrest quota that had been established within the department.
Now, many months later, BPD has yet to release any information about supposed investigations into these texts. Simultaneously, BPD made Jennifer Louis, the former interim chief, the permanent police chief of Berkeley on Tuesday, May 9, despite “indicat(ing) that they would wait until the independent and board investigations were completed,” as stated by Hansel Aguilar, Director of Police Accountability in Berkeley.
Because of the scarcity of BPD’s informational release, Copwatch, a Bay Area nonprofit, is conducting their own investigation into the possible arrest quota. Copwatch is a volunteer non-profit that was started in 1990 to monitor police interactions with unhoused people, who are often disproportionately targeted by police.
Copwatch has recently begun analyzing data provided by BPD through the Public Records Act to identify trends around arrests of people of color.
“It is crucial that the citizenry hold police accountable, and direct observation is a crucial part of understanding what’s actually happening with police in our streets,” said Andrea Prichett on the mission of Copwatch. Prichett co-founded Copwatch as a middle school teacher in the Berkeley Unified School District. “Police have enjoyed a kind of privilege and exemption from scrutiny that has had a detrimental effect on our ability to really provide for the public safety of our community,” she said.
“First of all, (the screenshots showed that) these police officers, in their free time at least, are extremely comfortable making racist jokes,” said Avi Simon, a member of Copwatch and a Berkeley High School graduate. “They’re extremely comfortable joking about a hypothetical new (COVID-19) variant that could wipe out and kill every unhoused person in Berkeley … It’s a disturbing way to speak about the constituents that these people serve.”
Another aspect of the leaked messages were allusions to an arrest quota. An arrest quota is an illegal practice in California, in which a leading member of law enforcement incentivizes their officers to make a certain number of arrests.
“It’s not legal to have this kind of quota for a lot of reasons,” explained Simon, “A good one being that you don’t want officers trying to bag as many arrests as possible. That encourages them to step over people’s constitutional and civil rights to try to meet that number.”
According to Simon, the texts showed “this idea that (the BPD Bike Force) had 100 arrests that they had to meet in a month.” Simon said, “They were saying things like, ‘That’s definitely gonna put us over the edge,’and effectively working through a competition. That is called an arrest quota.”
Because these texts were leaked, their authenticity is something that could be questioned. It is not definitive that there was an arrest quota, but Shedoudy’s account gave cause to investigate.
Along with the investigation incited by Copwatch, two other investigations are taking place by the Berkeley Police Accountability Board (BPAB) and the Internal Affairs Department. A complaint to BPAB led to a review of any wrongful policies within BPD that led to the allegations in the leaked messages. An investigation into BPD misconduct was also launched, and conducted by a private law firm hired by the city to avoid a conflict of interest.
According to Aguilar, BPAB can only access information through requests made to BPD. “To me, it’s a barrier in doing an independent, thorough investigation, because we’re relying on what information they’re giving us,” he said.
In terms of a motive for initiating an arrest quota, Simon and Prichett point to reputation. “Bike patrol has a high propaganda value for the police,” said Prichett, explaining that because of the task force’s visible presence, BPD is perceived to be more responsive to crime in that area.
Recently, the bike patrol was restored in Downtown Berkeley. Prichett hypothesized that once reinstated, they did not want their funding to be cut again, so they established an arrest quota to give the impression that they were “a vital part of policing in our town.”
“Police can make it look like they’re doing a whole lot when they make a lot of arrests,” Prichett said. “And that can contribute to this idea of a statistical crime wave, the perception that there’s lots of crime.”
If Shedoudy’s account is factual, then this quota required 100 arrests per month from the bike committee, which he described in an LA Times article as more than the rest of the police department combined. To investigate this, Copwatch is using records of arrests from the police department to look for patterns.
Prichett explained that illegitimate arrests can occur when someone is arrested and taken into police custody, and then the charges are quickly dropped. “If those arrests were not legitimate, then people paid the price for that,” she said. “Real live human beings went to jail needlessly, for the sake of a propaganda opportunity for the police … Unfortunately, people who are most likely to be taken unjustly are poor people, people of color, people who are marginalized, and (people) whom the police think don’t have the resources to resist or respond to an unjust arrest.”
According to Simon, Copwatch’s investigation involves seeing if the Bike Force made more arrests than the rest of the police department, and whether their arrests led to charges being dropped or not. If many arrests appeared illegitimate, this could indicate an arrest quota within the police department. “We want to see if people are being wrongly arrested in order to give the impression that the police are responding to crime,” Pritchett said. “We take that very seriously.”