BERKELEY (KPIX 5) -- Berkeley could become the first city in the country where unarmed transportation workers will conduct traffic stops. The city leaders will vote next week whether or not to take traffic enforcement responsibilities out of the hands of police officers.
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín said the idea is to have police officers focus on violent crime. They would no longer pull people over. He said the idea is part of a larger conversation on re-imagining public safety.
"Taking (the power) from a sworn person with a gun to a civilian position that still has the power to enforce," said Mayor Arreguín.
He said the trained civilians would not carry a gun.
"They will still have all the legal authority to ticket people for speeding or other dangerous driving [violations]. It just wouldn't be a police officer," said Mayor Arreguín.
Supporters said too many times, traffic stops across the country have turned deadly for drivers, especially if they're Black and Brown.
"There's nothing scarier than having a fully armed person walk up to you inside your car. That's really scary and they have a gun. If it's a civilian, I wouldn't feel that threatened, not at all," said Sean "Patches" Wells, who supported the proposal.
The mayor said they already dispatch social workers to respond to 911 calls related to homelessness and mental illness. This would be another step toward reforming the police department and their role in the community.
"As things escalate, get violent, we do have to bring police in at that time," said Mayor Arreguín. "By our police department focused on violent and serious crime, we'll have more officers who'll be able to respond more quickly."
"(By the time the civilians) call backup, the guy can be in the next county by then," said skeptical Berkeley resident Jesse Garza.
Opponents believed the idea is ineffective and puts the civilian workers in danger.
"I think it's terribly dangerous," said Don Cameron.
Cameron is retired police trainer and former Berkeley police officer. He said some people already challenge police officers during traffic stops, so civilians wouldn't stand a chance. Also, he said it would be hard to call for back up if things escalate fast.
"If you come up to the car and they pull a gun out the window and shoot you, what are you going to do?" asked Cameron. "If somebody says, 'Hey, I'm not signing that citation! Get out of here!' and drives away, what are you going to do?"
The police department said it does not comment on council legislation
The city council is set to vote on the proposal on Tuesday. As of Friday, there appeared to be enough votes to pass it. If it does move forward, the city will spend roughly a year to work out the details and drivers could see civilians conducting traffic stops in Berkeley as early as next Summer.
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