UCPD and the Berkeley Police Department have worked in tandem for decades to provide crime prevention services to the Berkeley community. However, the two departments also parallel each other’s struggles to maintain minimum staffing in recent years.
Spokespeople for both departments attribute financial struggles to the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming that insufficient funding has allowed for an increasing number of vacant positions in the police force.
“We experienced some downward funding,” said UCPD director of finance, Greg Falkner, in an email. “FY21 saw the lowest funding ($12.5M) in the past eight years and we have struggled to maintain the personnel necessary to provide the safety and service levels this community deserves.”
The UC Office of the President released a community safety dashboard June 30 amid efforts to increase transparency, accountability and independent oversight for the university’s policing and law enforcement facilities, according to Stett Holbrook, the spokesperson for the UC Office of the President.
According to the dashboard, UCPD’s total budget sources have remained steady systemwide, with a total allocation of $155,028,345 in fiscal year 2021-22. However, UC Berkeley’s finances paint a different picture, with a sharp dip of $3,821,144 since fiscal year 2019-20.
“With the decline of funding, UCPD has experienced a reduction in the number of officers they can assign,” said UCPD Chief Margo Bennett in an email. “We have filled that gap by reducing our detectives and putting administrative resources in uniform ready to respond.”
Bennett also noted that UCPD’s response time can be impacted “at any given moment” because of reduced personnel.
UC Berkeley’s base funding for community safety is notably larger than all other UC campuses — excluding UCSF — with a budget of $13,337,450. However, UCLA takes the lead in total funding by almost $3 million. Across the university, personnel, compensation and benefits use up the majority of the total budget.
As part of the university’s “Community Safety Plan,” UCPD is also working toward creating a team of professionals to respond to calls for services that do not require police response, according to Bennett.
“UCPD had been very much involved with campus efforts to create a plan in which mental health-related calls for service are responded to by mental health professionals,” Bennett said in an email. “Starting later this fall, a new mobile crisis team will be in operation, and in many cases it will be the first to respond working in collaboration with UCPD when the need arises.”
BPD’s expenditures in 2021 and 2022 also reflect a downward trend. This marks a notable departure from its previously increasing budgets, as depicted in the city’s budget proposal for fiscal years 2023-24.
However, the expected expenditures for 2023-24 reflect a return to normalcy, with more than $85 million proposed for each fiscal year in the budget proposal. This marks an increase of almost $20 million to the police department’s budget since fiscal year 2019.
The budget proposal notes that the city’s revenues are continuing to rebound but have still not reached pre-pandemic levels of performance. The proposal emphasized that the cost of providing services and funding council initiatives — particularly, costs related to personnel expenditures — have increased.
“The hiring and retention of police officers has been a persistent challenge for the Department over the past few years,” said BPD public information officer, Byron White, in an email. “Because the Department is not able (to) keep pace with the speed at which officers leave, opportunities for advancement and specialty positions decrease—two things which can affect the range/diversity of the applicants we receive.”
City Auditor Jenny Wong’s audit report of BPD’s spending in March revealed that 21% of officers exceeded overtime spending, with excessive costs going toward backfilling for officer vacancies and absences.
The report attributed this as the reason for BPD exceeding its general-fund budget four times in the last five years.
“While the police budget increasingly accounts for a greater share (of) the general fund, it remained roughly the same percent of the total city budget over time,” Wong said in an email. “This implies that the total city budget has grown in tandem with the police budget, unlike the general fund.”
According to the audit report, BPD accounted for 36% of the city’s general fund and 14% of government expenditures in the 2020 fiscal year.
Wong noted in the report that working too much overtime causes burnout and stress, emphasizing that BPD’s policy to regulate overtime is insufficient to manage its impacts.
“Excessive overtime can lead to fatigue-impaired officers, increasing risks to officers, the City, and the public,” the audit report reads. “Without adequate enforcement of policies and tools to manage overtime, BPD cannot fully mitigate risks associated with officer fatigue.”