The League of Women Voters for Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville hosted a panel Thursday with local representatives to discuss issues of public safety and police abuses of power.
Before the discussion began, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley explained recent efforts to prevent gun violence in Alameda County, focusing on risks to young people and those with mental health issues.
“In Alameda County, we have been really burdened with a huge amount of guns being used everyday, throughout the whole county,” O’Malley said during the meeting.
Panelists from Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville then shared local solutions and challenges.
Berkeley City Councilmember and panelist Terry Taplin cited easy access to firearms, lack of mental health support systems and underlying economic inequality as factors in gun violence. According to Taplin, Berkeley has seen a recent increase in gun violence.
Berkeley Police Department, or BPD, Lt. Melanie Turner said during the panel that the biggest challenges for the department were gun crimes and staffing shortages.
Panelist Héctor Malvido, a member of Berkeley City Council’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force and co-chair of Latinxs Unidxs de Berkeley, said there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to gun violence and stressed the importance of addressing underlying systemic issues.
“Gun violence is a direct result of economic oppression,” Malvido said during the panel. “Social determinants of housing, education (and) access to income (influence) ability to overcome these barriers.”
When looking at current county policies, Taplin cited Berkeley Unified School District’s efforts to improve its student safety plans. He noted the heavy investment of time and resources needed to combat the issue.
Malvido added that the relationship between BPD and the community is crucial to making an effective program against gun violence.
“The police department has a long history of serving the community of Berkeley … but it also has a very long history of racial discrimination” Malvido said during the panel. “That kind of relationship, I think, requires constant engagement and conversation.”
Addressing issues of public accountability, Turner commented on the integration of police de-escalation bias training in addition to the creation of the BPD Transparency Hub that allows public access to data on the police force. She emphasized that data is the key to addressing gun violence without over-policing.
Taplin also emphasized the importance of properly allocating fiscal and staff resources to take effective action.
“We can pass policies all day long, but if those policies just sit on the shelf, they don’t amount to any grade of change,” Taplin said during the panel.
Ananya Rupanagunta and Rae Wymer contributed to this story.