Berkeley Police Department, or BPD, announced in a press release June 1 that officers will be allowed to wear LGBTQ+ Pride pins — a decision made in “commitment to, and support of,” the LGBTQ+ community.
Riya Master, ASUC external affairs vice president, called the pins an “empty-handed gesture,” while Paola Bacchetta, campus professor of gender and women studies, said she did not care; an officer could wear a “clown suit” and they would still be part of “police oppression.”
“It’s kind of alarming to see someone in a police uniform — that represents the entire oppression of a community — bear a symbol that is supposed to represent joyousness,” Master said. “It seems like a waste of resources and a waste of time.”
Byron White, BPD spokesperson, said BPD has given officers Pride pins over the past several years. He noted that wearing a Pride pin, or any other community-representing symbol, can be a “conversation starter.”
BPD has a “culture of inclusivity,” according to White. He said there have been officers who transferred to BPD because it was more inclusive than the police departments they previously worked with.
“The LGBTQ+ community is part of the community, like everyone else,” White said. “A good starting point is treating people with dignity and respect — that’s something we try to do with all calls.”
White added that BPD has not had LGBTQ+ awareness training in “a while.”
Bacchetta said BPD and UCPD policing strategies are a “catastrophe” and she fears for “the lives of queer people on campus.”
UCPD has not responded to a request for comment as of press time.
“We are incarcerated at a higher rate than the heterosexual (population),” Bacchetta said. “It doesn’t make me feel safe and it doesn’t make me feel my students are safe.”
Maria Yates, a volunteer for Berkeley Copwatch, noted that BPD prides itself in diversity — racial, queer or otherwise. While proponents of queer hiring would say that is a win, a diverse police department, however, does not prevent racial disparities in law enforcement, Yates said.
She added that racial disparities in BPD’s policing have been documented since 2012 and, most recently, in the city auditor’s report.
Yates also alleged that, per Berkeley Copwatch’s documentation, Berkeley’s unhoused residents are harassed at least weekly.
According to a May 2020 study by UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, 8% of transgender adults experienced homelessness the previous year; however, only 3% of cisgender individuals and genderqueer sexual minorities did over the same period.
Yates said a model exists for an alternate form of crisis response in the form of a Berkeley Specialized Care Unit, or SCU.
The difference between SCU and police, according to Yates, is that SCU’s first responders would be psychologists and social workers. Yates noted that these first responders would have hundreds of hours of training in de-escalation, restorative justice and recognizing varying mental illness manifestations.
“There needs to be a response that centers health, safety and care that does not revolve around the police,” Yates said. “The police are an untrusted and feared entity among intersectional communities that need crisis services support.”
AB 988, a bill currently in the California State Senate, previously connected mental health crises with a number of police-related deaths.
A previous version of AB 988 alleged that 25% of fatal law enforcement shootings since 2015 were related to mental health crises.
“AB 988 intends to expedite the implementation of a mental health crisis line here in California to avoid unnecessary 911 calls, which disproportionately lead to excessive uses of force against communities of color and people in the LGBTQ+ community,” said Assemblymember Evan Low, D-Silicon Valley, in an email.
Low also serves as the chair of the California LGBTQ Legislative Caucus and was the youngest openly LGBTQ+ mayor in the country in 2010.
The current version of AB 988 reads that the legislature “intends to enact” laws that would make the phone number “988” a suicide prevention hotline by July 16, 2022.
Legislation such as AB 988 and other criminal justice reforms are meant to end the paradigm of mental health crises being treated as crimes, according to Low’s office.
Low’s office added that it hopes AB 988 will lead to better police and mental health expert responses along with improved relationships with communities of color and queer people.
“We know all too well that many mental health crises don’t require a response from law enforcement, as not every issue constitutes a public safety threat,” Low said in the email. “The LGBTQ Legislative Caucus was proud to support this bill, as it will not only lead to more peaceful resolutions when a person is in crisis, but it will also make better use of law enforcement agencies’ resources to keep the public safe.”