Amidst Unsolved Homicide, UC Berkeley to Reduce Role of Police in Campus Safety

June 19, 2020 Updated: June 19, 2020

The University of California-Berkeley announced Thursday a series of measures to reform its police department, in response to the growing call for the administrators to “re-imagine alternative systems” of campus safety.

In a statement declaring the changes, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ pledged to work with the UCPD and the community to make the use of police force “as restrictive as possible” within the school policy and the law, including banning the use of chokeholds.

“We acknowledge the harm that can be done by a militarized police force,” she said, adding that the tools and equipment currently used by the campus police will be reviewed to make sure that they are “sufficient, but not excessive.” Some responsibilities currently housed in the police department, such as emergency management and access to buildings, will also be transferred to “other campus units.”

In addition, the University seeks to move the police department out of the building it currently occupies, in an effort to make the location “more student-focused.”

“We recognize that this area, so close to the front door and heart of the campus, can be made more welcoming,” said Christ.

The changes come as police search for information about suspects in the murder of Seth Smith, a 19-year-old UC Berkeley sophomore who was shot and killed Monday night near campus.

Smith was seen lying on a sidewalk by a passer-by, who called the police, according to Berkeleyside. When the emergency responders arrived, they found that Smith had been shot in the head and pronounced him dead at the scene.

“How can anyone be shot in front of homes and no one saw or heard anything,” Smith’s mother, Michelle Rode-Smith, wrote on Twitter. “I can not rest until I know why my son Seth was taken from us. He enjoyed walking. He’d always been a night owl kid. He should not have been shot in the back of the head for walking on his street.”

Berkeley Police Department, which is offering a $50,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of Smith’s killer, also faces pressure amid nationwide outcry to “defund the police.”

Last week, Berkeley City Council members voted unanimously to ban the police usage of tear gas forever, while pepper spray and smoke would be banned during the ongoing pandemic. The latest proposal for consideration by the Council is to transfer about $14 million for “non-criminal” police duties to a “crisis worker pilot program,” in order to “protect the community from police violence.”