Berkeley Takes Cops Off Traffic Enforcement

Berkeley will become the first U.S. city to use unarmed city workers, instead of police, to enforce traffic violations.

Local leaders in Berkeley are planning for a future where police will no longer be the ones asking for “license and registration.” 

In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the Berkeley City Council voted in favor of a proposal to replace police enforcement of traffic violations with unarmed city employees. The measure, known as “BerkDOT: Reimagining Transportation for a Racially Just Future,” is the first of its kind in the U.S., and one of the most visible changes to policing to come out of the Black Lives Matter Movement. 

The proposal, put forward by city councilmember Rigel Robinson and co-sponsored by Mayor Jesse Arreguin and councilmembers Lori Droste and Ben Bartlett, will create a new Department of Transportation specifically designed to handle traffic enforcement. It comes as part of a broader package of police reforms by the city, which already voted to decrease police funding by $9.2 million, or about 12 percent. 

Robinson, who is 24 years old and represents the neighborhoods surrounding UC Berkeley, was inspired to create this legislation after activists approached him about the fear many Black and brown people have of violent encounters with police during traffic stops, according to the New York Times. The killing of unarmed Black people by police during traffic stops has been a central aspect of the Black Lives Matter Movement. The legislation specifically names Philando Castille, Sandra Bland, and Maurice Gordon — three African American people killed by police following routine traffic stops. 

“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,” Robinson told the Times. 

The BerkDOT plan would not be implemented for at least a year. 

The change to traffic enforcement passed as part of an “omnibus motion” reimagining policing in Berkeley, which also includes a pilot program to determine which kinds of police calls can be answered by non-police officers with an ultimate goal of reducing the police budget by 50 percent; and another to publicly track Berkeley’s police reform efforts on its website. 

The omnibus motion was supported by every member of the city council except Vice Mayor Cheryl Davila, who abstained, according to Berkeleyside. Her separate motion, to immediately reduce the police budget by 50 percent, did not pass, despite receiving the most positive feedback during the four hour public comment period.

This post has been updated.

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