Berkeley mayor: Defunding the police is 'reimagining public safety'

Arreguin says the city is 'creating a safer community for all people'

Berkeley, California, Mayor Jesse Arreguín, D., defended his city's recent decision to strip the police department of 12 percent of its budget during an interview with CNN Thursday by giving defunding the police a new name, calling it the "reimagining" of "public safety."

"I think that’s reducing and reinvesting funds from our police department budget to focus on new approaches to public safety," Arreguin told host Poppy Harlow. "I think it’s unfortunate that the word 'defund' has really taken over this whole discussion around reimagining public safety. What we’re focusing on in Berkeley is just that, reimagining public safety, and looking at how we can create a safer community for all people in Berkeley." 

POLICE DEFUNDED: MAJOR CITIES FEELING THE LOSS OF POLICE FUNDING AS MURDERS, OTHER CRIMES SOAR

Last July, the Berkeley City Council stripped $9.2 million from the city police department, or 12 percent of its budget. Council member Cheryl Davila had wanted to go a step further and defund the department by as much as 50 percent, and that reportedly remains a long-term goal.

In February, lawmakers voted to stop police from conducting traffic stops and instead send unarmed civilian city workers, stop officers from asking about parole and probation status in most cases, and dispatch mental health workers to crisis calls.

Berkeley's new approach, Arrequin argued, will allow police to focus on "violent and serious crimes."

And yet, as Harlow pointed out during their interview, "crime is up" in Berkeley. Arrequin argued the city's reforms will help stem the uptick because it will allow police to respond more effectively to gun violence.

Major cities who have taken similar action to reduce its police presence have experienced soaring crime, a Fox News analysis found. In Portland, for instance, police statistics from July 2020, post-budget cuts, show that homicides increased 270.6 percent compared to 2019.

In July, New York City moved $1 billion away from the municipal police department budget and distributed it to mental health, homelessness and education services. As of March 2021, murders are up 11.8 percennt. New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea placed some of the blame for the crime surge on the council's budget cuts. 

"It certainly had a significant impact," Shea said in September. "You think back, crime follows certain patterns and trends. Certainly, we see upticks of violence in the summer ... To have this crazy time happen this year, certainly, and leading to a defunding, it's really hurt."

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The debate over police funding comes amid a number of recent high profile police-involved shootings, which many media outlets have used to push an anti-police narrative.