BERKELEY (CBS SF) — Berkeley city councilmembers voted on Wednesday to cut the police budget next fiscal year by $9.2 million, about 12 percent, though the money saved will help backfill the city’s deficit rather than support changes as some residents had hoped.

Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani said in a tweet that the police department “absorbed similar cuts to other departments” to close a $39 mill budget deficit. “Now the work starts to reevaluate the role of police in mental health/social services and traffic enforcement.”

Mayor Jesse Arreguin said Wednesday afternoon that the Berkeley Police Department may be completely transformed in the future with officers responding only to serious and violent offenses.

“Do we need so many police officers?” Arreguin said.

In the fiscal year 2020 budget, which was adopted last year, 35.9 percent of the general fund was dedicated to the Police Department. The police department’s share of the fiscal 2021 budget following Wednesday’s cut is 31.5, according to a city report.

Arreguin said the focus of future police reforms will be on Black and Brown communities. A disproportionate number of Black and Brown people are stopped by Berkeley police, Arreguin said.

He also said parking and traffic enforcement may be moved out of the Police Department’s purview and into a new department, with an emphasis on racial justice.

“It will make people feel safer,” he said.

On July 14, the council will consider creating a Department of Transportation responsible for parking and traffic enforcement.

Unlike communities where police officers are primarily responsible for mental health crises, Berkeley has a mental health response team. But Arreguin said it needs to be expanded significantly.

He said Berkeley may partner with a nonprofit to expand that team.

Police Chief Andrew Greenwood was not available Wednesday to comment on the cuts to the police budget.

In a letter to the community four days after George Floyd’s death, Greenwood said, “Seeing far-away officers’ actions (and inaction) undermine our department’s collective efforts to build and maintain community trust
here in Berkeley, is ‘extremely’ frustrating for all of us here at BPD.”

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