City Council passes moratorium on police drones, sends police policy recommendations to city manager

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Phillip Downey/File

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Berkeley City Council voted at its Tuesday meeting to refer recommendations on improving community-police relations to the city manager for a cost estimate and passed a one year moratorium on the police use of drones.

The council passed a moratorium on the use of unmanned aircraft systems, or “drones,” by the Berkeley Police Department, primarily to give the council time to draft more comprehensive and informed policy on law enforcement’s use of drones. The legislation passed also authorizes the Berkeley Fire Department to use drones for disaster response purposes. The moratorium does not affect private use of drones.

Robert Meola, vice chair of Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission, which first proposed the ban to City Council in 2012, said he was disappointed that the moratorium allowed exceptions for drone use, and disregarded the commission’s recommendation encouraging California legislators to ban drones.

Like Meola, councilmember Jesse Arreguin said he is completely against the use of drones, but voted for the moratorium entailing exceptions because a “one-year moratorium is better than nothing.” He said privacy is a primary issue with drone use.

Councilmember Linda Maio, however, advocated to make the allowances for the use of drones by the fire department so as to not “tie” the city’s hands in the case of a major disaster.

Councilmember Lori Droste, who voted against the moratorium, further emphasized that drones have beneficial uses.

“My fear is that we are automatically assuming that all drones are bad, and their intent is to invade one’s privacy,” Droste said.

In addition to passing the moratorium, City Council referred a package of suggested action items concerning community-police relations — first compiled at a January work session — to the city manager for further study and cost analysis. Suggestions included analyzing the performance of the Drug Task Force, banning handcuffing of civilians prior to arrest, working to restore mental health funding and promoting demilitarized public safety models to reduce the impact of militarized techniques on people of color in Berkeley.

Barbara White, a member of the Berkeley chapter of the NAACP, said during public comment that black males are harassed around Berkeley for “walking while black, driving while black (and) breathing while black.”

“The disrespect that black people receive in Berkeley — it’s all over in America,” White said.

It is now up to the city manager to evaluate the items, Arreguin said, adding that he’s glad the City Council moved all the items forward.

This is the beginning of a longer process to make meaningful change,” Arreguin said. “I think we can show other communities how we’re making a meaningful effort to address police brutality (and) the inequities that exist in our society that led to the major issues within the police in our community.”

Contact Suhauna Hussain at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @suhaunah.