Berkeley police stop data from October 2022 to April 2023 revealed that Black and Hispanic/Latine residents were stopped at disproportionate rates compared to white residents.
Publicly available data from the Berkeley Police Department, or BPD, was aggregated by ethnicity for this article — differences on the basis of searches, primary reasons for searches, results of stops and further police actions against the individual are noted.
Black individuals made up 32% of people stopped in the past six months, while only making up 8% of Berkeley’s population, according to 2022 U.S. census data. Hispanic/Latine residents made up 17% of BPD stops and 12% of the population.
In comparison, white individuals made up 35% of the stops BPD conducted, while composing 57.5% of the population.
As of press time, BPD has declined to comment on the foregoing data.
Actions taken during stops and correlation with ethnicity
BPD data revealed that officers used physical contact, restrained and pointed a firearm at four Black individuals during the six-month period of the data. Police identified one of these individuals as having a mental health condition.
Police also removed two Hispanic/Latine individuals from their vehicles, restrained them and pointed a firearm at them before asking for consent to search. These patterns of action were taken against one white individual.
“We understand that racial disparities in policing are a complex issue that requires comprehensive and ongoing analyses,” said Police Accountability Board, or PAB, Director Hansel Aguilar in an email. “We are committed to promoting accountability and transparency in policing and will continue to collaborate with community members and stakeholders to identify areas where we can improve.”
Nathan Mizell, former vice chair of the PAB, helped review BPD data from 2012 to 2016.
Mizell noted that use of force trends were similar then as they are today.
“I’m definitely not surprised to hear that there may still be disparities in that type of use of force,” Mizell said.
Twenty-one white individuals who were stopped were identified as having a mental health condition, and some form of action was taken against 74% of these individuals. This action varied, from police just searching individuals to restraining and searching them, as well as restraining and detaining them in a patrol car.
Meanwhile, 13 Black individuals were identified as having a mental health condition, with some type of action being taken against 61.5% of those individuals.
In total, police took action during stops against 259, or 34.5%, of white individuals; 119, or 32.5%, of Hispanic/Latine individuals; and 330, or 47.9%, of Black individuals.
Primary reasons for stops and correlation with ethnicity
Out of 689 stops of Black individuals reported by BPD, 47% were stopped under “reasonable suspicion.” 38.7% of white individuals were stopped for this reason, as were 29.8% of Hispanic/Latine individuals.
Mizell explained that stops under reasonable suspicion are considered pretextual stops. He said they don’t have any “public safety benefit,” and most individuals comply out of fear of what could happen to them otherwise.
“By and large, most stops are used, not so much for a public safety benefit, but are used in a way that allows for other searches to potentially be conducted,” Mizell said.
Another category under primary reasons for stops is traffic violations. 46.7% of Black individuals were stopped for this reason, along with 55.9% of white individuals and 68.2% of Hispanic/Latine individuals.
“It is important to note that there are various factors that contribute to these disparities and disproportionalities, and we need consistent qualitative and quantitative analyses to understand and address them effectively,” Aguilar said in an email.
Mizell discussed how he and the PAB brainstormed several recommendations that were adopted to address the racial disparities shown in the BPD data.
He added that his hope was to eventually implement policies to this end, but said this goal has remained “unfulfilled.”
“The department adopted a policy pretty recently on how they were going to conduct stops,” Mizell said. “These include primary collision factors in terms of making stops, avoiding stops for pretextual purposes. From the data I’ve seen, I don’t think what came out for the police task force has been fulfilled even with the new policies.”
In response to the data, Aguilar reiterated how he and the rest of the PAB are committed to working with community members to improve the data trends.
Aguilar said in the email that the PAB understands the importance of “building trust between the police and (their) community” through equitable policing practices.
Result of stops and correlation with ethnicity
Of the total number of white people stopped, 11.3% of the cases resulted in no action. 28.3% of the individuals received a warning, either verbal or written, as a result, and 12.5% were arrested without a warrant.
Meanwhile, 32.3% of Hispanic/Latine individuals who were stopped received a citation, and 33.7% received a warning, either written or verbal. 10.7% of cases resulted in no action.
For Black individuals stopped, 33.7% received a warning. 0.3% of Black individuals were minors who had their legal guardian contacted. 20.2% were arrested without a warrant, and no action was pursued against 14.8% of total stops.
5.3% of the white individuals stopped were placed in a psychiatric hold, or a 5150 hold. 5.1% of Black individuals stopped were also placed in a psychiatric hold.
The 5150 psychiatric hold, as described in BPD policy 400, affirms the officer’s right to take a person into custody or an approved mental health facility for 72-hour treatment and evaluation with probable cause. BPD policy outlines that when deciding whether to take a person into custody, officers should determine if the person is an “imminent danger” and if they have a history of a mental disorder.
“What the community has expressed is that we do not want the police responding to those calls, they’re not trained for it,” said Andrea Pritchett, a founder of Berkeley CopWatch.
Data highlighted in this article also reveals that the use of firearms after restraint — something Mizell noted as “disproportionate uses of force” — occurred with Black and Hispanic/Latine individuals stopped at significantly higher rates.
47% of Black people were stopped under account of reasonable suspicion, and roughly 68% of Hispanic/Latine people were stopped for traffic violations — these were found to be two of the most prevalent points of data.
In an email, Aguilar noted there would be additional reports coming out soon from PAB.
“Our soon to be released Annual Report may provide some additional information regarding some areas of concerns noted by community members,” Aguilar said in an email.
Berkeley CopWatch alleged that “bad arrests,” or arrests that are not pursued by the prosecutor, have increased since Jen Louis’ interim appointment.
Elana Auerbach, a Berkeley CopWatch volunteer, and Tarik Shah, a data analyst at the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, among others, alleged that racial disparities in stop and arrest rates have increased since Louis was appointed interim chief.
As of press time, Louis has not responded to requests for comment.
After examining 2022 police stop data from the city’s open data portal, Auerbach found disparities in the race of people stopped. These findings are likely reflected in the police stops data from October 2022 to April 2023.
Auerbach noted in a Berkeley Copwatch report, handed out during a May 4 press conference, that in 2022, Black people were seven times more likely per capita than white people to be stopped while driving, and nine times more likely when on foot.
“Even though low-level offenses were supposed to be eliminated, the BPD continues to make low level stops (i.e seatbelt, expired tags, faulty equipment) that especially target Black people,” Auerbach said in the report. “These racial disparities are worse than reported by the Center for Equity in Policing in 2018, before Louis was interim chief.”
Jen Louis, a longtime BPD officer and previously the interim police chief, was appointed official police chief on Tuesday.
In 2022, under Louis’s term as interim chief, leaked text messages among BPD officers revealed anti-houselessness, racist sentiments and possible arrest quotas. Berkeley CopWatch and other community groups referred to these messages as “Textgate.”
Investigations conducted both by an external legal body and the PAB are still underway, and Louis’ appointment was still called to a vote despite the incomplete status of these investigations.