The Berkeley City Council held a special meeting on January 23rd, during which a major city initiative known as “Reimagining Public Safety” (RPS) was discussed. The project, as the name suggests, focuses on reworking the current public safety infrastructure to create a more diverse, fair, and effective system. A central goal is to transition the city out of its heavy reliance on law enforcement, and place more emphasis on alternative response teams and support services.
“Reimagine, Improve, Reinvest” is the motto of the RPS team, a large task force made up of eighteen members from different departments, including the city attorney, city manager and budget manager, as well as members from the Berkeley police department, fire department, public works department and health, housing & community services department. The team is led by Carianna Arredondo, the assistant to the city manager.
According to Arredondo, the RPS project has been in the works since 2020, making this the fourth year of the project’s existence. The first phase, which took place from 2020-2022, focused on gathering data by researching and analyzing the community, examining issues as varied as transportation, emergency response, domestic abuse, and gun violence. The initiative is currently in its second phase, which focuses on continued community analysis and early implementation of RPS in several departments. The third phase of the project is projected to span from 2024-2026, and will involve direct implementation of RPS in the community, and focus on expanding the size of the project within both the local government and the city itself.
At the council meeting, the RPS team provided a presentation which highlighted the goals of Reimagining Public Safety, which included the development and implementation of:
Specialized Response Units, who work closely with the equity and transportation departments;
Specialized Care Units, who focus on intervening with mental health and drug crises;
And Community Service Officers, who will help foster deeper community engagement with local law enforcement and build trust.
The presentation also brought up changes to existing infrastructure such as:
systemic triages and pre-responder arrival instructions for the emergency dispatch center; and organizational restructuring, bias and diversity training, and mental health programs for the police department.
A plethora of additional staff have been hired in order to make this plan a reality, and the team has already finished filling up the majority of the positions, ranging from data analysts in car crashes and gender violence, to service officers and alternative units.
Reimagining Public Safety has shown relative progress in recent years, with the implementation of a crisis hotline and the development of a wellness center at Berkeley High School. However, some members of the community believe that while RPS has good intentions, it may not meet its fullest potential. One resident said that the program must be more connected with the community in order to be successful, and that the program could very well die out if it doesn’t demonstrate more rapid progress.
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