Statement on Leaked Text Messages out of Berkeley Police Department

November 17 2022

The Center for Policing Equity (CPE) is appalled by the views, actions, and frank disregard for public safety revealed in a series of leaked group chats among officers serving with the Berkeley, California Police Department (BPD). Sent between officers in 2019 and 2020, the texts appear to reference an arrest quota centered on Berkeley's unhoused residents, engage in vile dehumanization of those residents, and express views that are openly racist.

In 2015, the Berkeley Police Department reached out to CPE to study BPD's arrest data, in order to determine if its policing practices led to systemic racial disparities in their outcomes. The Berkeley City Council began discussing these concerns in 2019, and in 2021 voted unanimously to implement a package of interventions intended to reduce any such disparities.

That the leaked exchanges took place even as the city was seeking to understand the racial disparities in BPD's policing underscores the imperative of moving forward with that work. Public safety is not safety for some, or safety for those that law enforcement deems worthy of it; public safety is a whole-society concern. If a Berkeley resident's safety depends on their race or housing circumstances, public safety in Berkeley is a mirage.

CPE stands in solidarity with community residents, activists, and organizations who are demanding swift disciplinary action against the officers implicated in the leak, urgent reviews of BPD's hiring and screening practices, and an immediate audit of all department-issued phones and computers. We acknowledge Berkeley City Council's appropriate decision to pause Tuesday's expected swearing-in of BPD's next police chief. At all stages of its response to these events, CPE urges the city to be open, transparent, and responsive to the concerns of community representatives such as Nathan Mizell, Vice-Chair of the Berkeley Police Accountability Board. 

However, more alarming still, the former BPD officer responsible for leaking the group chats has informed city officials that he considers those texts "the tip of the iceberg." In an email, Corey Shedoudy disclosed that he has “hundreds" more documents that he plans to release, including: "text messages, emails, sworn testimony transcripts, public arrest records, and photographs that clearly outline a practice of illegal arrest quotas, racism, evidence suppression, lying, and quid pro quos." 

Should this prove true, BPD and the City of Berkeley stand at an especially critical crossroads that goes far beyond the futures of a handful of officers. The city's leaders now have an opportunity to do the difficult but manifestly urgent work of co-creating with Berkeley's Black, Brown, and unhoused communities public safety systems that are effective, equitable, and just. Should Berkeley's elected leaders and its law enforcement agency squander that opportunity, however, they will be making the conscious choice to remain mired in a status quo that is as dangerous as it is unjust.

Diagnosing the challenges that face BPD, identifying areas with racial disparities, and calling for change can only be the first step. The texts we have already seen serve also to highlight that BPD officers are consistently tasked with work they have not been trained to do. If Berkeley hopes to transform its public safety systems so that they work for all communities and residents, the city will also have to commit to investing in the infrastructure, upstream resources, and municipal culture necessary to support those efforts today and in the future. 

It is CPE's mission to eliminate systemic racism. We use data science to advance that goal by helping vulnerable communities–particularly Black and Brown communities–work with their elected officials and law enforcement agencies to co-create public safety systems that are safer, more effective, and more equitable. 

The burden is now on the City of Berkeley and BPD to act with appropriate urgency in addressing these revelations, the institutional culture informing them, and their dire implications for Berkeley's residents. The city's Black, Brown, and unhoused communities have the right to have their civil rights, dignity, and humanity respected at all times, not least by those sworn to serve them.