The City of Berkeley, which has often in its history been at the forefront of progressive movements, is considering a proposal that would remove all police from traffic enforcement, and create a new Department of Transportation that would use unarmed personnel to make traffic stops and issue tickets.
Much like most cities don't have police doing the work of meter maids, Berkeley city leaders are saying that cops don't need to be involved in traffic stops either. And the Berkeley City Council will take a vote on creating this proposed Department of Transportation next week.
"Most traffic stops don't really warrant a police officer," says Darrel Owens, the co-executive of local non-profit East Bay for Everyone, and one of the people responsible for crafting the proposal, speaking to ABC 7. Owens sees this as one logical step in the process of defunding police departments nationwide.
"A minor traffic violation should not [result] in the murder of a black or brown body, but at the same time we can also re-examine the nature of punitive law enforcement and broken windows policing that makes traffic enforcement so deadly to begin with," Owens says.
Last week, the Berkeley City Council passed a budget that cuts $9.2 million from the police department, which was proposed by Mayor Jesse Arreguín. As he told the Chronicle, "We may need to reduce the Police Department by 30% — it may be 60%, it may be 70%. We don’t have that number right now."
And at least 100 Berkeley residents showed up to a mid-June council meeting calling for drastic changes to how law enforcement and public safety work in the city — with some calling for abolishing the Berkeley Police Department altogether, as Berkeleyside reported.
"A serious discussion of the role of modern policing is incomplete without a conversation around traffic enforcement," says Berkeley City Councilmember Lori Droste. She and two other councilmembers, along with the mayor, are sponsoring the proposal to create the Department of Transportation.
And while ABC 7 naturally found some residents on the street of downtown Berkeley who are uncomfortable with removing police from traffic enforcement, Droste says people shouldn't be worried. "We don't want to inhibit apprehending dangerous criminals or drunk drivers. That is not the intent," she tells ABC 7.
Funding for the new department has not been figured out, and the council vote next week will be simply to begin the community engagement process.
If the proposal becomes a reality, it will be another in a string of progressive measures that Berkeley has undertaken before the rest of the country. Berkeley became the first city in the nation last year to ban all natural gas lines from being installed in new construction — something that San Francisco may still consider doing — and in decades past Berkeley has banned everything from plastic straws to smoking in public long before most or all other American cities made similar moves.