A handful of community members got a preview Tuesday night of three possible alternatives for a new Berkeley Police beat map, which ultimately will determine how officers are deployed around the city. Bigger beats and the potential creation of a small “flex unit” to address hot spots or crime trends are among the ideas under consideration, which are still in draft form.
Citing tight budgets and limited staffing, police undertook an analysis of several new ways to assign officers around town. The city of Berkeley, working with Mountain View-based Matrix Consulting Group, has been collecting input about police services via an online survey and, starting this week, in open meetings.
(Upcoming sessions with the consultant, police staff and council members are planned for Thursday, May 15, and June 4, with several others still to be scheduled.)
Matrix president Richard Brady told the West Berkeley residents who attended Tuesday’s overview that more than 1,300 people have already taken the online survey. Brady said that survey will stay open for several more weeks, despite a prior announcement that it would be cut off in April. Take the survey here.
Read more about Berkeley’s police beat realignment.
Brady said Tuesday night, at Rosa Parks Elementary School to about 20 attendees, that his analysis of 2013 calls for service showed wide variations in officer workload among the city’s 18 police beats, which were created in 1993. Workload variability is one of the main problems the reorganization is designed to address.
Beats with the lowest call volume received 5% or less of the roughly 46,000 calls for service in 2013, Brady said. On the other end of the spectrum were beats receiving 10-15% of the calls. (Those numbers include calls from residents as well as alarms, but do not reflect “officer-initiated activities,” such as traffic stops.)
Officials have also said that, at the current staffing level, it’s not always possible to have an officer assigned to each beat, which has been a cause for concern in the community because it results in decreased visibility and slower response times, among other issues.
In response to a question from a community member, Brady said Berkeley’s current staffing-to-community ratio is within the national norm of about 1.5-2 officers per 1,000 residents for cities of Berkeley’s size. But he added that, due to wide variations in criminal activity across cities, that ratio is essentially “worthless” to determine appropriate staffing levels.
Brady presented three draft alternatives to the current 18-beat structure: a 16-beat concept that includes minor tweaks, an 11-beat alternative he described as “pretty strong,” and a four-beat option that is similar though not identical to the four major police “areas” that are presently in use. He ultimately said the 11-beat option appears to achieve more of the department’s goals than the other two. (He noted Wednesday, however, that he is not officially advocating for any of the choices at this time.)
Under the 11-beat and four-beat alternatives, police would potentially create a three- to four-person “flex unit” that could respond to problem areas or address crime trends, and work closely with the department’s data analyst to set priorities.
Brady said most medium-sized cities have created flex units to deal with problems that may be more significant than a single officer can readily handle. But beats continue to be beneficial, as well, because they allow the department to minimize response times and make officers accountable to a particular area.
Berkeley Police Capt. Erik Upson emphasized Wednesday that the maps presented Tuesday are still in draft form and will likely change in response to public feedback.
“The three examples are three approaches that we will continue to adjust and seek input on,” he said. “They are by no means finalized. It’s not that one of those will be the final proposal, but it gives a perspective of what we’re looking at.”
Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan said Tuesday night that there is still ample time for the public to offer feedback.
“Don’t assume we’re at an end state,” he told those gathered. “We’re not. We’re in the middle of the process.”
Brady said community meetings will continue to be held in various council districts over the next two to three weeks, as his firm continues to collect and analyze feedback. A council work session is planned for the end of June.
Meehan said, in response to a question from a community member, that there are no plans to add many more officers to the force. The department is allowed to employ 176 sworn staff, but currently has 165 and is not likely to get much higher.
“When I look at the budget horizon, we’re really focused on where we’re at, and where we’re at today,” he told attendees. “We’re not going to be able to go to 176, at least not in the foreseeable future.”
Upcoming council district meetings are scheduled for May 15 and June 4, with several others yet to be announced. Take the survey here. Anyone with questions about the survey or the evaluation process can reach out to Matrix project manager Richard Brady at 650-858-0507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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