Berkeley’s Police Review Commission adopts policy recommendations on police involvement in protests

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Ariel Hayat/File

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At a Wednesday meeting, Berkeley’s Police Review Commission adopted policy recommendations on police involvement in protests as part of its review of the December Black Lives Matter protests in the city.

The PRC passed several recommendations as written by Berkeley Police Department, including the introduction of policies dealing with fire safety and limitations on skirmish lines.

The PRC added language to other recommendations, setting a 72-hour timeline for police post-action reports, defining objectives when officers are dispatched to protests and requiring new dispersal orders to be audible to protesters at both the front and back of the crowd.

BPD officers, however, said there were already laws in place around new dispersal orders and, at the meeting, said the PRC “may be adopting language more stringent than the law.”

The commission adopted a recommendation, with amended language, that BPD should adjust its deployment of resources in crowd-management roles to focus on peaceful maintenance of events, identifying possible violence, and on communication between the police department and the crowd.

A recommendation regarding skirmish lines drew criticism from PRC commissioner Ben Bartlett, who called its wording circular and confusing. The policy was meant to prevent unnecessary skirmish lines by using them only when the situation calls for enough force to hold the line.

PRC commissioner George Lippman said the reactive nature of voting on BPD recommendations turned the commission’s focus away from what he called the main issues of police involvement in protests: weaponry and chemical weaponry used on crowds, mutual aid from other police departments, and BPD’s mission of crowd management instead of crowd control.

The commission discussed an email to PRC staff member Katherine Lee from Lt. Dave Frankel, in which Frankel confirmed that taser use was threatened as a consequence of protesters failing to disperse during the demonstrations. BPD is not authorized to use tasers, and Frankel said it was likely that the lieutenant who gave the dispersal order read from another department’s order.

“It’s not excusable to not know how it happened,” Lippman said at the meeting. “When do we stop saying, ‘You made an honest mistake?’ and start holding ourselves accountable to the law?”

Lippman tried to make a motion to censure BPD command and the lieutenant who gave the dispersal order, but the motion failed, as PRC chair Alison Bernstein said it was not within the commission’s power to censure. Bernstein, however, expressed concern about the threat to use tasers and suggested that the commission write a letter to the city manager regarding the issue.

The commission also evaluated a compilation of factual findings about the December protests, focusing on the potential lack of police warnings to protesters and on whether rubber bullets were fired at the crowd.

The PRC will meet again Wednesday to continue voting on the BPD recommendations and faces an Aug. 10 deadline, as set by Berkeley City Council, according to Lippman.

Contact Madeleine Pauker at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @powkur.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article stated that George Lippman described the nature of the police commission’s voting on BPD recommendations as reactionary. In fact, he described the process as being reactive.