Berkeley Considers Banning Police From Making Traffic Stops

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
berkeley considers banning police from making traffic stops

With Congress having politicized their nearly identical bills on police reform into another deadlock, many local governments have decided to pick up the slack by embracing activists seeking to dismantle law enforcement. Most of these don’t concern us as automotive enthusiasts and offer few perks or comfort to your average citizen. Then the City of Berkeley floated an idea that actually sounded halfway decent.

Rather than abolishing the police entirely, the famously progressive Californian town suggested ending routine traffic enforcement. However, you may want to hold off on making any illegal modifications to your car and postpone any burnout competitions you were planning on hosting. The proposed arrangement doesn’t officially endorse lawless roadways, though they may still be possible during the transitional period.

Berkeley’s City Council wants to establish a new Department of Transportation aimed at replacing regular police for traffic enforcement duties. Meanwhile, Mayor Jesse Arreguín has slashed over $9 million from the city’s law enforcement budget, vowed to enact sweeping policy reforms and suggested reducing the current department’s size by anywhere from 30 to 70 percent. That could make finding the funds for the new agency difficult to come by. Berkeley City Council member, Lori Droste, admitted as much to ABC7 when explaining the plan and its objectives.

“We don’t want to inhibit apprehending dangerous criminals or drunk drivers. That is not the intent,” Droste attempted to explain. “A serious discussion of the role of modern policing is incomplete without a conversation around traffic enforcement.”

Darrell Owens, a bicycle and bus advocate from the East Bay for Everyone housing and traffic non-profit, worked with the council to create the proposal and had a little more to say about it. “Most traffic stops don’t really warrant a police officer,” he said. “A minor traffic violation should not have resulted in the murder of a black or brown body, but at the same time we can also re-examine the nature of punitive law enforcement and broken windows policing that makes traffic enforcement so deadly to begin with.”

Owens hopes to see funding that would have gone to the Berkeley PD funneled into the new Transportation Department, claiming it is part of the broader movement. Employees from the new agency would still be in charge of enforcing the law but would lack some of the tools used by regular officers — mainly weapons and normal squad cars.

Maybe they can utilize the glut of BMW i3s the LAPD hardly used.

Frankly, it seems overboard for a city with a population just over 120,000 that hasn’t had a single police shooting since 2012. Yet racial justice has become a focal point for many municipalities in the wake of the George Floyd protests, and everyone is scrambling for a quick fix. Council member Rigel Robinson claimed several major cities had already expressed an interest in copying the program.

“Within a day, an L.A. City Council member was messaging me on Twitter about it,” Robinson, who introduced the proposal last month, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “As far as we know, something like this hasn’t been meaningfully attempted before.”

That’s an easy statement to make when there doesn’t seem to be much of a framework outside of the name BerkDOT. A few council members have suggested automating ticketing entirely (even though it’s not technically legal in California) and having the DOT call police when a situation becomes dangerous. But no one has said anything specific about how the new system would be implemented.

“We don’t have all of the answers yet,” said Mayor Arreguín. “But somebody has to break ground on this. And Berkeley is committed that this is a conversation we need to explore.”

From our vantage point, it doesn’t look like Berkeley has any answers at present. Yet that could work to the advantage of California motorists interested in seeing what they can get away with. BerkDOT seems largely toothless and is bound to have funding and organizational issues during its trial year. We doubt these unarmed civil servants will be in much of a position to chase down speeders, though we can’t speak to the potential complications of taking normal cops permanently off traffic duty — nor can Berkeley until all the details are sorted.

That’s assuming it moves ahead, of course. The city council will hold a vote on Tuesday to see if things can progress. From there, it will begin a community engagement process and figure out how the hell this is actually supposed to work.

[Image: Ford]

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  • Stuart Stuart on Jul 14, 2020

    Many years ago, I saw a wonderful, snarky bumper sticker. It was red, with yellow lettering, and the traditional yellow hammer-and-sickle on the left. On the right, it said: Welcome to the People's Republic of Berkeley. Dunno about that driver's politics, but personally, I was very amused.

  • -Nate -Nate on Jul 15, 2020

    Subscribed . Those who cannot manage to live in California are encouraged to leave, the won't be missed as they're worthless citizens by definition . -Nate

  • StormEagle 400 miles range
  • Inside Looking Out Enforcing laws? It is so yesterday! Welcome to California!
  • Lou_BC You'd think cops would have an understanding of the laws they are supposed to enforce.
  • Merlyn I’m on my second Spark and love it! I can pass any car I’ve never had a problem going up a hill it does just fine. As for cargo I can fit three suitcases, two book bags and still have the front seat for a passenger. Not sure what point this guy is trying to make. I have hand free phone service and Sirius radio plug in my phone and have navigation. I would buy another spark in a heartbeat.
  • Buickman I won't own one and I'll be happy!