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Berkeley Moves Closer to Ending Police Traffic Stops

Good morning.

After Californians poured into the streets of cities across the state to protest police brutality and racism last summer, elected leaders pledged to implement reforms.

Los Angeles’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, pledged to move $250 million from city departments — including a $150 million cut from the Police Department — to go toward communities of color. San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, in June unveiled a four-point blueprint for dealing with racism and how the city’s Police Department addresses mental health and homelessness.

But progress on those goals has been varied in the months since, not just within California, but across the country. And different jurisdictions have taken different approaches.

Amid widespread calls to defund the police, for instance, school leaders in some cities have moved to reduce the presence of armed police officers in hallways. This month, the Los Angeles Unified School District voted to cut its police force and instead invest millions of the dollars it would have spent on armed security in programs for students of color and other measures, after student activists led a push to defund the department.

[Read about how schools are one of the few places where major changes have taken place in response to last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.]

But in Berkeley, known for its progressive politics, city officials this week moved ahead with what they described as meaningful changes they hope will make the city a model in addressing racial disparities in policing — without the explicit focus on slashing the Police Department budget.

“I think using the word ‘defund’ is a mistake,” Berkeley’s mayor, Jesse Arreguín, told me on Tuesday. “What we’re focusing on is transforming our approach to public safety and that’s part of the whole broader effort to figure out, what is the role of police in our community and how can they best be deployed?”

In July, as my colleague Kellen Browning reported, Berkeley became what was believed to be the first city in the nation to plan to prohibit police officers from conducting traffic stops and shift that responsibility to unarmed members of a department of transportation.

[Read more about why proponents believe removing the police from traffic stops could prevent encounters with Black civilians that turn violent — or deadly.]

On Tuesday evening, the Berkeley City Council unanimously approved a package of reforms that city officials — including Chief Andrew Greenwood of the Berkeley Police Department, who spoke at the special meeting — said were possible in the near term, while they figure out how to make broader changes.

The reforms require city officials to implement a ban on stopping drivers for offenses that aren’t safety related, such as for broken taillights or even rolling through a stop sign if no one’s around, and would stop police officers from asking about parole and probation status in most circumstances.

The reforms also include requiring written consent for searches in cases where consent is necessary, and building in more transparency measures in police interactions with members of the public.

[Find the recommendations in more detail here.]

Experts have long said that traffic stops, the most common interaction Americans have with the police, disproportionately affect Black drivers. And police officers often have broad discretion to pull people over in “pretext stops,” meaning they might stop a driver for a minor infraction so they can ask other questions.

A report by the Center for Policing Equity found that Black people are 6.5 times more likely than white people to be stopped by the Berkeley Police Department while driving and 4.5 times more likely to be stopped on foot.

Mr. Arreguín said that directing officers to spend less time stopping people for violations that don’t affect broader public safety and more time investigating more serious crimes will build trust and make the department run more efficiently.

Now, the city’s elected leaders must hold officials accountable for acting on the changes, said Nathan Mizell, a student at U.C. Berkeley who has served on the city’s police review commission and on the mayor’s working group that developed the recommendations approved on Tuesday.

“I feel it is truly an important step,” Mr. Mizell said. “It’s one that is long overdue.”

(This article is part of the California Today newsletter. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox.)

  • California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, who is President Biden’s pick for health secretary, faced tough questioning on Tuesday in the first of two confirmation hearings. But with Vice President Kamala Harris available to break a tie, Mr. Becerra appears headed for the job. [The New York Times]

Senators are overloaded with hours of hearings as they try to work through cabinet confirmations. [The New York Times]

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday signed a sweeping, $7.6 billion state relief package that will send $600 payments to millions of low-income and undocumented Californians. [CapRadio]

  • Tiger Woods was rushed to a hospital with serious leg injuries after he was involved in a single-car crash on a stretch of Hawthorne Boulevard near Rancho Palos Verdes known for accidents. Here’s what we know about the crash. [The New York Times]

  • Two studies confirmed that the California coronavirus variant is more contagious, but the scale of the threat is still unclear. [The New York Times]

Track coronavirus variants and mutations. [The New York Times]

  • The state’s much lauded Covid-19 testing lab in Valencia run by PerkinElmer pushed back against a finding during a recent state inspection that it had “significant deficiencies,” saying that problems had been corrected. [San Gabriel Valley Tribune]

  • Los Angeles Unified School District is set to restart some on-campus services next week, with a broader reopening targeted for April 9. [LAist]

  • Amid substantial frustration that the effort had taken so much oxygen when students still aren’t in classrooms, the head of the San Francisco Board of Education said that the mass renaming of schools would be paused. [The New York Times]

Washington Republicans are seizing on shuttered schools as a political rallying cry. [The New York Times]

  • The family of a 30-year-old Navy veteran, Angelo Quinto, is planning to file a legal claim against the Antioch Police Department after an officer knelt on his neck while he was suffering a mental health crisis. He was pronounced dead at a hospital three days later. [KTVU]

  • The agency that controls much of California’s water supply released numbers that reinforced fears the state is falling into another drought. [The Sacramento Bee]

  • Meet the activists working to remake the food system. [T Magazine]

If you missed it, read more about the farmer growing peaches in the pandemic. [The New York Times]

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet and publisher, the spiritual godfather of the Beat movement, best known in recent decades as owner of San Francisco’s beloved City Lights bookstore, died on Monday morning. He was 101.

In 1951, Mr. Ferlinghetti arrived in San Francisco, which he described as “all bohemia.”

In 1953, he and Peter Martin opened the City Lights Pocket Book Shop, which originally carried nothing but paperbacks.

And in 2019, in honor of his 100th birthday, there were celebratory readings, documentary screenings — and tours of the old-school San Francisco he knew.

California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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