The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a package of policy changes aimed at reforming policing in the city by reducing racial disparities in traffic enforcement, reports The Appeal. Berkeley police will no longer be able to stop drivers for only minor traffic violations like equipment violations, expired vehicle registration or not wearing a seatbelt. Instead, police will be directed to conduct traffic stops only for violations that endanger public safety, such as excessive speeding, running a red light or stop sign, and driving under the influence. A person can still be cited for low-level offenses if they are pulled over for a public safety reason. The policy package grew out of a working group Arreguín convened last year on fair and impartial policing, which formed after the release of a 2018 study by the Center for Policing Equity. The study found that Black and Hispanic people were more than six times more likely than whites to be stopped by the Berkeley Police Department while driving and more than four times more likely to be stopped while walking.
Between 2012 and 2016, Berkeley police also searched Black people at a rate nearly 20 times that of white people. Latinx people were searched more than four times as often as white people. Despite disproportionate stops and searches of people of color, police were significantly less likely to uncover contraband during those searches than during searches of white people, according to the study. The new policies mean Berkeley police must also obtain written consent from motorists before doing a search without a warrant. The working group report cited research that showed requiring written consent reduced the number of warrantless vehicle searches by roughly 75 percent. Officers are also no longer allowed to search a person who is on probation or parole unless the officer believes there is evidence of imminent danger, or that the person has committed a crime or is about to commit a crime. The Berkeley Police Association opposed the reforms, saying in a statement that they “will turn officers into filing clerks, gutting their much-needed time on the streets within our community.”