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Berkeley Police Department Criticized Over Racist Remarks

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Written By: Habibi Bridges 

A member of the police making derogatory statements about people of color? Shocking. Unfortunately, this was the case in Berkeley according to a whistleblower from the Berkeley police force who leaked text receipts indicating that a 20-year police veteran and sergeant sent out questionable messages to his fellow officers.

The revelation of the text messages, which went public on Monday after an Oakland advocacy group by the name of Secure Justice posted the screenshots on its website, swiftly brought on widespread criticism and calls to postpone plans to vote for a new police chief on Tuesday so that an investigation into the sergeant’s behavior can be conducted and completed before the vote takes place.

Berkeley City Manager, Dee Williams-Ridley penned an email to the City Council stating that the “very disturbing” matter would be investigated. On Monday, the city spokesman Matthai Chakko, announced in a written statement that the council plans to hire “an external investigator to verify and investigate any and all documentation and allegations arising from this complaint” 

Former Berkeley police officer, Corey Shedoudy sent screenshots of the leaked texts to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguīn as well as the City Council last Thursday. The screenshots accompanied an email alleging Sgt. Darren Kacalek commanded officers from the Downtown Task Force and Bike Detail to meet what Shedoudy considers “arrest quotas” focusing on unhoused transients.

The several dozen screenshots Shedoudy had attached to his email included conversation snippets between Sgt. Kacalek and other officers in the Downtown Task Force and Bicycle Units, which were under the supervision of Kacalek.

One message sent by a number that allegedly belongs to Kacalek in September 2020 was a complaint regarding a press release of an arrest that did not list the suspect’s race, In another message sent in August provided a link to a (satirical) Craigslist listing of a “white privilege card” wherein the poster complained that the card did not secure them “welfare checks” nor “free housing” and was looking to trade for “a race card”. 

In another message, undated, the number associated with Kacalek joked about “a new [Covid-19] strain that wipes out the homeless pop” and added “we will just ride by the bodies”.

Shedoudy claimed in his email that Kacelek directed police units to hit a quota of 100 arrests per month, “using questionable legal tactics that included stop and frisk, probation searches with no reasonable suspicion of a crime, and a very loose interpretation of stay-away orders from UC Berkeley.”

While none of the attached screenshots pointed to an exact number of arrests, the number identified as Kacalek’s repeatedly placed emphasis on arrest numbers.

“81 arrests! We can do 19 by Friday for sure” read a text from his number sent back in November 2019.

Another screenshot showed Shedoudy responding by suggesting the units focus on solving business owners’ “pain points” instead of arrest numbers, with Kacalek allegedly responding “For sure Corey but numbers are a way of quantifying it as we move to really solving long term problems.”

Shedoudy was fired by the Berkeley police in August 2021 for unspecified reasons. He is reportedly challenging his termination in an arbitration process, according to his message to the Berkeley City Council. He claims he has “hundreds” more messages and documents he intends to leak in the near future.

Paul Keahloa-Blake, a member of Berkeley’s homeless commission who runs Consider the Homeless is anything but surprised upon hearing of the troubling messages sent between police units. “People say stuff like that all the time, and the only thing that’s holding them accountable [now] is the recording of it through social media,” Keahloa-Blake said.

Civil rights lawyers Osha Neumann and Andrea Henson, founders of the non-profit Where Do We Go Berkeley pointed out that a disproportionate amount of the city’s homeless population is Black compared to the city’s demographics. Neumann and Henson note that their black male clients, the demographic most vulnerable to the deep-rooted systemic racism in law enforcement, frequently and disproportionately become targets of police searches and harassment.

“We have heard and seen this throughout the homeless community,” according to Henson. “But typically, people are not outraged when homeless people are treated this way.”

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

Despite the announcement, the mayor has not voiced his wishes to postpone voting for a new police chief, despite many citing it is inappropriate to instill a new chief during the investigation. Jen Louis, the interim police chief since March 2021 is expected to be voted in, however Nathan Mizell,  the Vice Chair or Berkeley’s Police Accountability Board has voiced his concern over voting in a new chief until an oversight agency make an investigation into Shedoudy’s claims.

“Hastily confirming the interim chief now would severely undermine public confidence in the independent oversight that Berkeley’s citizens voted for in establishing the Police Accountability Board,” Mizell expressed in a written statement. “There is no conscionable way for the confirmation process to go forward tomorrow.”

According to the email authored by Shedoudy, Louis failed to investigate Kalacek’s statements, although it wasn’t made clear how or if Louis was made aware of his actions. According to Louis, she was not informed of Kacelek’s behavior until Thursday, and alleged that none of his behavior took place under her supervision.

“If at any point during my tenure, from officer to interim chief, I had become aware of these allegations, I would have immediately done my part to initiate an investigation,” Louis claimed.

It is yet unclear whether the city council’s vote for a new police chief will continue to take place Tuesday, or if it will be postponed.

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