Berkeley, CA – Berkeley city lawmakers are considering a proposal that would ban law enforcement officers from conducting “routine” traffic stops and entrust unarmed city transportation department personnel to pull drivers over instead.
The legislation, which is the brainchild of Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson, is being touted as part of the city’s response to the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement, the East Bay Times reported.
“Driving while Black shouldn’t be a crime,” Robinson told The New York Times. “If we’re serious about transforming the country’s relationship with police, we have to start by taking on Americans’ most common interaction with law enforcement — traffic stops.”
According to Robinson, “far too often, routine traffic stops turn deadly,” the East Bay Times reported.
“A serious discussion of the role of modern policing, and the harm it has disproportionately inflicted on Black communities, is incomplete without a focus on traffic enforcement,” he reiterated.
“Berkeley residents have made it clear that the current model of policing is not working for our city,” Robinson opined. “I’m excited to continue the conversation on reimagining public safety, starting with the way we conduct enforcement on our streets.”
The proposed law change would create an entirely new department – the Berkeley Department of Transportation (BerkDOT) – which would be staffed with unarmed employees, the East Bay Times reported.
Those employees would be responsible for conducting traffic stops, citing drivers for traffic violations, and issuing parking citations.
Police would be allowed to respond if the drivers pulled a weapon on the city employees.
It’s not clear how the city will grant the authority to detain people to non-police employees.
The proposal comes on the heels of the Berkeley City Council slashing the city’s police budget by $9.2 million, the East Bay Times reported.
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, who co-sponsored the defunding effort, hailed it as “a down payment in reimagining public safety in Berkeley.”
“We don’t have all of the answers yet, but somebody has to break ground on this,” Arreguin told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Berkeley is committed that this is a conversation we need to explore.”
The Berkley Police Department (BPD) did not comment on the BerkDOT measure, and noted that the agency “does not comment on City legislation.”
Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) spokesperson Sergeant Ray Kelly said that establishing an entirely new department to handle traffic violations seems to fly in the face of budget conservation.
“From a management perspective and budget perspective, it doesn’t make sense unless you’re a major metropolitan city,” Sgt. Kelly told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Why create more bureaucracy when traffic can be done very professionally, with a slight learning curve, with city departments?”
But Arreguin argued that “it’s probably cheaper” to use unarmed employees to carry out such tasks.
“The police budget is currently 44 percent of our general funds,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “That’s not sustainable for our city.”
Lawmakers in New York City and Los Angeles have expressed interest in developing similar legislation for their cities, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The Berkley City Council is expected to vote on the BerkDOT proposal on Tuesday.