The Berkeley Police Department (BPD) presented their year-end report for 2022(link) to the Berkeley City Council on March 14th, 2023, and covered it again at the Police Accountability Board (PAB) meeting the next day. Police department representatives presented data that covered several topics. They included statistics on the overall increase in violent and property crimes, the department’s ongoing efforts to reduce the increase of catalytic converter thefts, as well as their initiatives for the upcoming month. Historical and current data and news released by the police department can be found on their Transparency Hub (found here).
The data introduced in the year-end report was designed to provide an overview of the state of crime in the past year, but members of the public pointed out that the data presented in the report was overly broad, and provided insufficient actionable insights. One problem that can arise when government bodies present difficult to interpret, decontextualized data is that it can be incomprehensible and/or lead to erroneous assumptions and conclusions. Members of the public and at least a few councilmembers asked the police to be more detail-oriented in their data collection and provide more rigorous analyses and clearer presentations in the future. At both meetings, the public expressed concerns and said they wanted more than a snapshot of data; they wanted to know the data’s implications for the department moving forward. Police responded to several of the follow up questions concerning data by saying they were short staffed, a serious problem facing the department recently reported by Berkeleyside.
At the city council meeting, a particular set of data that captured the attention of the councilmembers and public was the alarmingly high number of sexual assault crimes, with 89 cases in 2022. Police department representatives said that the rise in reports continues a trend that began before the pandemic. When asked to explain reasons for the rise in cases, police department civilian analyst, Rita De Lucchi, said that the increase in reports may be the result of victims feeling more comfortable coming forward. Some reports may be based on events that actually took place in the past.
This same issue was also addressed at the Police Accountability Board (PAB) meeting, when Vice-Chair Regina Harris asked BPD Chief Jennifer Louis if there was an identified reason for the rise in sexual assaults. Louis explained that a primary factor behind the elevated numbers over the last year was due to students coming back to school after COVID-19. Also, with better resources, including an available Title IX coordinator in the district, students have been better supported in reporting instances of sexual harm, both from the present and the past. Therefore, although the rise in numbers is shocking at first glance, the underlying reasons for the increase may lean towards positive change in the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) community.
BPD promised to improve their transparency, and they have recently taken steps towards that end. Their participation in PAB meetings, newly launched website and reports to the city council have shown their efforts. The PAB meets on Wednesday evenings with accommodations made to allow the public to join virtually (link here). Recordings of previous meetings are also accessible. There are many opportunities to give public comments and ask questions that are answered by board members and police representatives.
–Sangey Palshertsang, Katelyn Liao
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