Berkeley To Vote On Splitting Police Department; Radical Groups Support Plan
Friday, March 5th, 1971
BERKELEY, Calif., Mar. 5 — This city which embraces the University of California will vote April 6 on a proposal to split the Police Department into three neighborhood-controlled forces.
The outgoing mayor calls it an attempt by radicals to seize the city government.
Drafted by the Committee to combat Fascism – affiliated with the Black Panthers — the charter amendment calls for separate police for the predominantly black, white and student sections. The city’s population is 80 percent black.
The initiative petition that got it onto the ballot had a whopping 15,000 signatures, with heavy backing of radical groups the Negro and student areas.
Retiring Mayor Wallace Johnson has called it the work of “revolutionaries and political hypochondriacs” who have “the vaulting ambition to take over the city.”
The campaign sparked massive registration drives which skyrocketed the voter rolls to 60,591, or 57.2 percent of Berkeley’s 113,000 population. This is a new high for an off-year local election.
Nine candidates lined up for the mayor’s race, and 33 for four of the nine City Council seats.
Mario Savio and his wife, Suzanne, leaders in the Free Speech Movement which violently shook the university in 1964, were mayoral candidates but recently withdrew without explanation.
Remaining candidates for the largely ceremonial mayor job include:
John K. DeBonis, conservative city councilman and strong backer of the police during past disorders.
Larry A. Melton, 22, former member of the Charles Manson desert commune, who, in filing, proclaimed himself “fresh from the backwoods, half horse, half alligator, a little touched with snapping turtle.”
Antonio Camejo of the Socialist Workers party, brother of Peter Camejo, a Trotzkyist activist who himself tried for mayor four years ago.
Warren Widener, a black liberal city councilman who fell into radical disfavor by refusing to support the police splitup.
Vice Mayor Wilmont Sweeney, who was the city’s first Negro councilman in 1961 and who opposes the police initiative.
The two blacks have emerged as the top contenders, with Mayor Johnson supporting Sweeney while Widener is hacked by Rep. Ron Dellums.
A black militant and avowed revolutionary, Dellums swept to victory in the 7th Congressional District on the Democratic ticket last November with the sort of youth-oriented drive that now is being mounted for the police control plan.
Dellums advocated both the police and peace initiatives.
Many candidates, including Widener, said they agree with use concept of local community control but object to wording of the measure or the trisecting of police jurisdictions.
The proposals also would require policemen to live within their department neighborhood and would create three 15-member councils and a five-member commission to govern the three forces.
Presently the power to fire, hire or discipline police rests with City Manager William Hanley, who is responsible to the City Council.
Advocates argue that local control and the residence requirement would make officers more sensitive to community needs and reduce tensions in a city that has borne nearly 70 major demonstrations, disruptions and bombings in the past six years.
Hanley and other opponents say the 214-member force-272 counting civilian employees — would quit if the initiative passed, as 85 percent of them live outside the city limits. A police spokesman said there were “about” seven blacks on the force.
Opponents of the plan say Berkeley would be left with an inferior police force controlled by radicals.
Bipartisan opposition, led by a group called One Berkeley Community, contends the measure is racially divisive, a step backward by a city that pioneered in total integration of its schools.
“I can’t imagine how this is divisive,” retorted Anthony Platt, a university assistant professor of criminology, who champions the measure.
“It seeks to give powerless groups in the city — especially students and blacks – a voice in how the Police Department is run.”
The neighborhood councils would set enforcement priorities.
“For example,” Platt said, “police in one area may be ordered to spend less time picking up runaways or marijuana users and more time investigating major crimes.”
Businessmen opponents claim the measure is an attempt to seize control of the economic center of Berkeley under the guise of participatory democracy.
Department No. 2 would encompass the university and high school and also the downtown business district.
Resident students and the ever-present ‘street people’ who have engendered an much past violence would run the police while business people living in another district would have no voice, opponents to the proposal say.
The enrollment at the university is about 28,000. Election officials say there is no way to determine how many college students are eligible to vote. But college groups which launched a voter registration drive last fall through two weeks ago claim they registered 10,000 new voters in the campus area.
Department No. 1 would encompass the predominantly black area of west Berkeley adjoining the city of Emeryville. Department No. 3 is a split one, predominantly white, covering areas southeast of the Berkeley campus.
“This whole controversy overlooks the fact that whenever politicians control police, then you have corruption and influence-peddling,” said Mayor Johnson, who claims backers of the proposal have an antipolice bias.
“Our city manager form of government interposes a buffer between the police and politicians.”
By TIM REITERMAN