City Police Review Commission meets to discuss lack of implementation of recommendations by police

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The city Police Review Commission met Wednesday night and discussed concerns regarding the Berkeley Police Department’s lack of implementation and reaction toward the commission’s recommendations.

In addition, the commission also reviewed BPD’s response to the December 2014 protests — and the resulting recommendations drafted by the PRC — as well as the disbandment of a homeless encampment in Downtown Berkeley.

Commissioners raised concerns that the PRC was not actively involved in the implementation process of its recommendations, with Commissioner George Perezvelez stating he was unaware of a BPD meeting that took place the day before to discuss the recommendations.

The commission also discussed future action on handling complaints against members of the police department.

“Currently it is more important to protect the officers than (to) determine or protect the rights of the citizens who believe they’ve been wronged,” said Commissioner Alison Bernstein. “If both interests are of even concern, then let’s use a standard that reflects that.”

According to Bernstein, the PRC aims to make the burden of proof — or the obligation to prove one’s assertion — for complaints be shared equally between victim and the police officer in question.

Bernstein added, however, that the proposal to change burden of proof was unanimously accepted by the PRC two years ago and has yet to be approved by the city or BPD.

“If we are by law and court designated a disciplinary body, it is of our interest to know if our findings and decisions are used as part of the disciplinary process,” Perezvelez said.

A motion was then unanimously passed for the PRC to work together with the Berkeley Law Policy Advocacy Clinic to discuss a new method to promote a policy on burdens of proof to be accepted by BPD.

The commission also briefly discussed recommendations after an investigation of BPD’s response to the December 2014 protests. The recommendations — which include public announcements before the deployment of less-than-lethal weapons and to not treat nonviolent demonstrators as public safety threats — are meant to offer peaceful alternatives to facilitate communication between demonstrators and police.

“What the police department needs to know about is respect for the rights of others, and to earn the citizens’ trust,” said Gene Herman, a member of the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists.“There are a lot of people in this country, in Oakland, Berkeley, who no longer trust the police because (the police) appear to disrespect the citizens of this country, especially the minority, the poor and the homeless.”

The Berkeley City Council had accepted the PRC’s report in January regarding BPD actions during the December 2014 protests and had begun the process of adopting the commission’s recommendations.

The commission also discussed BPD’s actions in “Liberty City,” a homeless encampment in front of Berkeley’s Old City Hall. The encampment was shut down by BPD in December because of concerns of deteriorating environmental health conditions. Three people were arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct by occupying a public space without the permission of the owner.

In a unanimous vote, the commission proposed a special meeting be called to investigate the actions of police officers while dispersing individuals from the encampment. The meeting would take place in March with representatives from other commissions — including the city Department of Public Works — as well as the PRC.

Community member and homeless individual Mike Lee — who is running for Berkeley mayor in the November municipal elections — expressed outrage at the commission for not taking further action to protect the rights of the homeless people whom he felt were unlawfully evicted from the government building.

Lee has been a strong supporter of Liberty City, claiming it had successfully done more than the city to shelter and provide for the homeless people of Berkeley, adding that the PRC was “not interested in the constitutional rights” of the encampment members.

Haruka Senju covers city government. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @haruka_senju