Police Recruitment Up, Crime Down
The City of Berkeley has a long and proud tradition of progressive policing. Berkeley’s first Police Chief, August Vollmer, is regarded as the father of modern-day law enforcement. Even in the early 20th century, he introduced science-based investigation techniques, the first use of automobile patrols, and the first basic records system in the United States, among other innovations. In recent years, the Berkeley Police Department has implemented new policies and practices to increase accountability and service such as our Crisis Intervention Team to help people in mental health crisis and the deployment of body worn cameras. The Department continues to adapt and evolve based on the latest trends and technologies.
Last month the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) presented their 2018 Crime Report to the City Council, showing a reduction in crime in every category except arson (which remained flat). This year saw a 12% decrease in violent crime and a 10% decrease in property crimes. One noticeable statistic is that despite an increase in the number of people biking in Berkeley, bicycle thefts have dropped by 37% over the past three years. This is the result of the Police Department’s focused efforts on bike thefts, leading to dozens of arrests, some of whom were prolific bicycle thieves. This continues an overall trend of crime on all levels decreasing over the past ten years. Yet while these statistics show that crime is going down overall, we can’t lose sight of the fact that nearly every week we read of a high profile crime. Our residents and businesses have been victims of crimes and do not feel safe. Our highest priority must be creating a city where everyone can feel safe to live and work. We must continue to prevent crimes from happening, solve crimes when they happen and make arrests so that everyone in our community feels safe and can enjoy a good quality of life.
It’s no secret that BPD, like police departments all over the country, has recruitment and retention challenges, a trend that started about ten years ago. Fortunately, through an extensive recruitment campaign, staffing has been on the increase since May 2018. The low point was 153 officers in May 2018, which has since risen to 164 officers in March 2019. BPD estimates that they need to hire an additional 30-35 people to reach full capacity of 181 sworn officers (under the assumption 10-15 people will retire over the next year). Recently the City Council allocated additional funding to BPD for a robust outreach campaign to recruit officers throughout the state and country. I have advocated for reinstating bike and foot patrols in the Downtown, Telegraph and other high-crime areas. While the Department has increased their patrols in the Downtown through overtime, once we are fully staffed we can deploy a more robust community policing program. Given the intensive outreach the Department has been doing, they are on track to reach this goal in the next year or two.
We are fortunate to live in a time where we have instant access to news and information. Social media platforms such as Nextdoor allow us to directly communicate with each other on issues facing our community, especially crime. This means that every crime that takes place can be announced to neighbors, which is important to raise awareness and prevent others from being victims of crimes. Expanded communication networks and reporting however have created the feeling that crime is on the rise, when in reality statistically on the whole crime is decreasing in many areas.
I want to express my deep appreciation to Police Chief Andrew Greenwood and the staff of the Berkeley Police Department for the great work over the past year to increase staffing and address crime. This includes their successful efforts to investigate and ultimately make arrests in high profile shootings that took place at San Pablo Park, and ongoing efforts to create a safe environment in that neighborhood.
Long term goals for the Police Department
Focusing on recruitment is key. With more staffing we can expand our patrols and respond more quickly to calls for service. I support the Department’s ongoing efforts to increase recruitment and will provide whatever resources are necessary to increase our staffing to the authorized level of 181 officers (which was increased from 176 in the 2016 budget by 5 additional officers).
With an expanded and full Police force we can expand our community involved policing program. I support expanding patrols in our commercial districts and other high crime areas. I also support creating a Crime Suppression Unit to provide a flexible team to investigate and respond to crime trends. We need to increase our Traffic Bureau staffing to allow us to do more proactive enforcement of traffic laws. Recently several high profile pedestrian-car collisions have illustrated how dangerous our streets are for people walking and biking. The implementation of our new Vision Zero initiative will require more staffing. In the interim I support the Chief’s efforts to redeploy staff to increase the Traffic Bureau. I also support creating other specialized units such as a Gang Unit and a Canine Unit. This will provide special training and opportunities for advancement for officers, and provide tools in criminal investigation and prevention.
I also support expanding our Mobile Crisis Team and Homeless Outreach and Treatment Team (HOTT) which outreach to and help homeless persons in crisis. According to Department statistics over 35% of calls for service relate to mental health. While BPD may need to be deployed to ensure the safety of the person and our outreach team, in many cases it is more appropriate for trained clinicians and social workers to help those in crisis. This will help reduce the amount of time our Police officers have to respond to mental health calls. I will be advocating for the use of Measure P funding for expanded mental health staffing and transport.
We must also focus on crime prevention by addressing the root causes that cause young people to engage in crime. Innovative research and work is being done all over the country, and consistent with Berkeley’s history of always being at the cutting edge, I believe we must look at best practices that can help in our crime prevention work. Over the coming months I will be creating two citizen task forces: one focused on exploring best practices and approaches we can adopt in Berkeley to address violence and crime; and one focused on violence prevention with the goal of early intervention and support. We are fortunate that in addition to our excellent Police staff, we have national experts working on these issues who live in Berkeley. I believe that we can draw on their experience and ideas to continue to make our Police Department the best in the nation.
There has been great progress made in the past year and I look forward to supporting the Department with whatever it needs to continue to create a safer community.