Invest in Berkeley’s Public Safety
According to BPD’s 2021 Year-End Crime and Collision Data report, shootings and auto thefts are on the rise. However, the “clearance rate” for shootings, or percentage of gun violence crimes solved, has fallen below 40%. These have been disproportionately concentrated in South and West Berkeley, inflicting the most harm on lower-income households and diverse communities. Read the report here.
As Berkeley’s population grows, so do its calls for service to the Berkeley Police Department. However, BPD remains critically understaffed, stretching current staffing thin and relying on increasing overtime costs. In 2017, the fully authorized staffing level was 181 full-time employees. Since at least 2018, the Department has struggled to recruit and retain to reach that number, and COVID hiring freezes reduced the number of sworn officers to a historic low of 152. The City must reinvest in full staffing of its police department in order to more strategically prevent and solve violent crimes while reducing reliance on overtime.
Vision Zero Funding
Since 2018, the City of Berkeley has been committed to a Vision Zero Action Plan to eliminate traffic deaths by 2028. To help meet this goal, fully implementing the City’s already-adopted Bicycle Plan (2017) and Pedestrian Plan (2020) would cost roughly $124 million. The City must prioritize all current and future capital funding, including revenue measures passed at the ballot, to a full implementation of Vision Zero through the projects identified in these plans. Pairing Complete Streets designs and other safety improvements with paving projects can realize significant cost savings while also saving lives and reducing pollution and congestion.
Slowing down traffic and encouraging a modal shift to more sustainable, less polluting modes of travel also improves safety and reduces automobile traffic for those who can only make certain trips with a car. A genuine commitment to fully funding Vision Zero improvements can sustain a virtuous cycle of increasingly healthier, safer, more convenient streets for all road users.
Social Housing Pilot Study
In urban areas throughout the world, other nations with lower rates of homelessness and housing insecurity provide adequate housing for their citizens as a municipal service. The cities of Vienna and Singapore own and operate public housing development corporations that retain some amount of land title in the public trust in order to stabilize the housing market—either by restricting ownership to leases, or encouraging low-cost rentals and developing on public land holdings. Both also retain a “reserve” of land and/or development rights to stabilize housing affordability. These cities are able to provide housing to any citizen at an affordable cost regardless of their income, effectively reinvesting revenues from higher-income households to subsidize housing for lower incomes. In the United States, disinvestment and segregation of public housing exclusively as a social service for the poor virtually guaranteed its collapse. We should no longer be tinkering around the edges and assume that some of us will face permanent housing insecurity. Berkeley can lead the way by studying how to replicate more effective models of public housing as practiced around the world, and work toward long-lasting housing justice.
Flex Team for Problem-Oriented Policing
Berkeley has seen a sharp uptick in shootings this year, particularly in South and West Berkeley. In the first half of 2021, Berkeley saw an increase in shootings, auto thefts, burglaries, and aggravated assaults. However, since 2018, the Berkeley Police Department has not had a Special Enforcement Unit and Special Investigations Bureau to investigate drug trafficking and violent crimes. Berkeley has been a leader on police reform and civilian oversight of its police department, and the City Council is working to expand social services to prevent cycles of poverty and crime in the long-term, but residents still need the public sector to investigate and solve crimes. Facing its lowest staffing levels in many years, the Berkeley Police Department needs a nimble, “flexible” unit to respond to community concerns while conducting long-term investigative work to solve crimes. It’s not sustainable or beneficial to the community to have patrols and detective work functionally bifurcated in the police department. Research shows that more police time spent investigating violent crime results in more cases being solved. The City should re-establish this unit with a focus on problem-oriented policing, following the SARA model (Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment) recommended by the draft Reimagining Public Safety report.
Automated License Plate Readers
Berkeley is experiencing a disturbing rise in violent crime, property crime, and traffic violence. South Berkeley has experienced numerous hit-and-runs this year, including one that killed local business owner in front of her children on Ashby Avenue. In 2020, vehicle thefts were up by 66%, and grand theft was up by 45%, largely driven by catalytic converter thefts. State law does not permit local governments to civilianize or automate traffic enforcement (i.e. with speeding cameras), but Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) are a proven tool that can be used to investigate and deter traffic violations and other crimes. Our community needs all available resources to keep each other safe while respecting privacy and civil liberties. We are not truly safe without our freedoms, and by the same token, our communities must know peace to have true freedom.