Leaked texts show Berkeley police union chief made derogatory comments about homeless people and people of color, ex-officer says

Berkeley Police Department. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

The Berkeley Police Department sergeant who leads the city’s police union pressured officers under his command to increase the number of arrests they made and sent them derisive comments about residents without housing and people of color, according to text messages shared by one of the officers.

The leaked messages were condemned on Monday, along with calls for the city council to postpone a vote scheduled for Tuesday in appoint a new police chief until an investigation into the sergeant’s conduct is complete.

Dee Williams-Ridley, City Manager of Berkeley written in an email members of city council that the matter, which she described as “very disturbing”, will be investigated.

A former Berkeley police officer, Corey Shedoudy, sent screenshots of the texts to Mayor Jesse Arreguín and the city council on Thursday, accompanied by an e-mail alleging that Sgt. Darren Kacalek ordered members of the department’s Downtown Task Force and Bike Detail to adhere to what Shedoudy described as “arrest quotas” focused on homeless residents.

The posts became public on Monday, when Oakland advocacy group Secure Justice posted them on its website.

Kacalek, a 20-year veteran of the ministry and president of the Berkeley Police Association, could not be reached on Monday. The association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Spokespersons for the Berkeley Police Department and the city also did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the posts.

Berkeley police fired Shedoudy in August 2021; information about what led to his dismissal was not immediately available and, according to Shedoudy’s post, he is challenging his dismissal through the arbitration process. He could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The text messages, several dozen of which were attached to Shedoudy’s email, appear to show snippets of conversations from a group chat thread that included Kacalek and other Berkeley police officers, at least some of whom were members of the Center’s units. -city and bicycles, that he supervised.

In a message, sent in September 2020, a person identified as Kacalek in the conversation complained that a press release about an arrest did not note the race of the suspect, writing: “I assume he is not black or no one could decipher his race and he’s not homeless or even homeless, just without an address. # i want the cold hard truth. A month earlier, the same person had shared a meme of a Craigslist article listing a ‘white privilege card’ for sale, with the poster complaining that she hadn’t gotten them ‘welfare checks’ or “free lodging”, and that he would exchange for “a racing card”.

In another undated post, the person identified as Kacalek joked about “a new strain that’s wiping out homeless pop,” and added, “we’ll just roll by the bodies.” It’s unclear what he was referring to, as the screenshot didn’t show any other messages in the chat.

Shedoudy alleged in his email that Kacalek ordered units to make 100 arrests a month, “using questionable legal tactics that included stop and frisk, probation searches without reasonable suspicion of a crime and a very vague interpretation of UC Berkeley restraining orders.

The text messages do not contain explicit references to a monthly arrest quota. But there are several posts in which the person identified as Kacalek stressed the importance of arrest numbers.

“81 arrests! We can do 19 by Friday for sure,” the person wrote in a November 2019 post.

When Shedoudy wrote in another case that the task force should focus more on addressing local businesses’ “pain points” rather than a specific number of arrests, the person identified as Kacalek replied, “Of course. , Corey, but the numbers are a way to quantify it. as we strive to really address long-term issues.

Shedoudy wrote that he has “hundreds” of additional text messages, emails and other material he plans to release in the future.

Professor: The texts show “a complete disregard for the rights of people”

Community leaders were quick to speak out against the text messages.

Nikki Jones, a criminology professor and chair of UC Berkeley’s African American studies department, said the posts reflected a culture of casual bigotry that’s common in police forces across the country.

“The tone of this shows complete disregard for people’s rights,” Jones said. The texts, she said, “reveal the kind of ordinary, routine ways that officers think about the people they are tasked with surveilling. So the question is, how does this influence the way agents treat people?

Jones called for an investigation to determine to what extent the views expressed in the text messages have spread to routine Berkeley police practices.

Osha Neumann and Andrea Henson, civil rights lawyers who founded Where Do We Go Berkeley, said Berkeley’s homeless population is disproportionately black compared to the city’s demographics. Neumann and Henson said their black male clients, who are often the most vulnerable to deep-rooted systemic racism in law enforcement, have consistently reported discrimination and harassment from police, but these issues do not have not been resolved.

“We’ve heard and seen this throughout the homeless community,” Henson said. “But usually people aren’t outraged when homeless people are treated this way.”

Paul Keahloa-Blake, who runs Consider the Homeless and is part of the city’s homeless commission, called for full accountability and transparency in responding to text messages, as well as a major focus on appropriate resources for the homeless. -shelter and extensive crisis intervention training for the police. Kealoha-Blake said he was not surprised by the text messages.

“People say things like that all the time, and the only thing that holds them accountable [now] is his recording through social media,” he said.

In a statement released on Monday, Mayor Jesse Arreguín said he was “outraged by the news of these disturbing texts and by the habitual behavior of some officers of the Berkeley Police Department”. These actions are unacceptable and do not reflect our city, its values, or any professional or constitutional policing standard. »

Council member Terry Taplin wrote in his own statement that he was “deeply disturbed and disturbed by the recent surface of texts showing anti-homeless and anti-Black racial bias distributed by a Berkeley Police Department officer “.

“This conduct is nothing less than a violation of the public trust and falls below the values ​​of our city, our community and the standards of our police department,” Taplin wrote.

Racial disparities in stops by Berkeley police have been documented for years. Reports from the Center for Police Equity and the city ​​auditor found that blacks are arrested at much higher rates than whites and were more likely to be subjected to the use of force by police, although such cases are rare in Berkeley.

As of October 2020, city data shows that Berkeley police have arrested more black people than white people, even though black people make up a smaller portion of Berkeley’s population. Blacks accounted for 36% of traffic stops conducted by Berkeley police during this time, while whites accounted for 34% of traffic stops.

These types of disparities are common in cities across the country, and in 2018 Berkeley had the lowest racial disparities among hundreds of agencies studied by the Center for Police Equity.

Berkeley has taken steps to reduce racial disparities in policing. In February, the city council voted limit low-level ticketing. Plans to reinvent public safety are in the booksincluding the potential creation of new teams to handle traffic enforcement as well as mental health crises and substance abuse emergencies.

Calls to suspend hiring of police chief

The Berkeley City Council is set to name the city’s next police chief on Tuesday, but text messages and allegations in Shedoudy’s email are fueling opposition to the plan. City officials tapped Jen Louis, an insider candidate who has served as the department’s acting chief since March 2021, to be its permanent chief.

Nathan Mizell, vice chairman of Berkeley’s Police Accountability Board, released a statement on Monday calling on the city council to delay Louis’ appointment until the oversight agency – which he said was unaware Shedoudy’s allegations – investigated them.

“To hastily confirm the interim chief now would seriously undermine public confidence in the independent oversight the citizens of Berkeley voted for when the Police Accountability Board was created,” Mizell wrote in a statement. “There is no reasonable way for the confirmation process to continue tomorrow.”

Secure Justice also asked city officials to suspend Louis’ appointment and asked the state Department of Justice to investigate the allegations.

In her message to the Berkeley City Council, sent some time after Shedoudy’s email and also posted on the Secure Justice website, Williams-Ridley told the nine council members she saw no reason to postpone the appointment of Louis. Williams-Ridley wrote that an “initial investigation” revealed that Louis was unaware of Shedoudy’s messages or allegations; she did not say when this investigation was conducted or what it consisted of.

Neither Arreguín nor Taplin called for postponing the vote to name the leader in their statements.

Shedoudy alleged in his email that Louis failed to investigate Kacalek’s conduct, although he did not specify if or how the conduct was reported to Louis.

This is breaking news that will be updated.

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