Berkeley Police Department discusses implementation of body-worn camera program

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Francesca Ledsema/File

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At a Tuesday special City Council meeting, the Berkeley Police Department’s command staff updated the council on its plan to implement a body-worn camera program for officers.

The plan is partly a response to allegations of misconduct regarding the December 2014 Black Lives Matter protests. In addition to the body-worn camera program, BPD also discussed the retirement of its drug task force and efforts to collaborate with Berkeley Unified School District to create educational programs.

Since the beginning of 2016, BPD has been working in collaboration with the city’s Police Review Commission to develop policies regarding body-worn cameras.

“I think it will happen,” said BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel. “One factor is to figure out how to pay for it.”

In January 2015, the cost of implementing the program was estimated to be $390,000, said BPD Chief Michael Meehan at the meeting. According to Frankel, BPD has applied for grants to fund the program but has yet to receive any.

Additionally, BPD introduced and improved several youth programs in an effort to enhance community relations — including a new law and social justice career pathway to be implemented at Berkeley High School — according to Meehan, who added that he hopes this program will encourage students to look into the law enforcement career path.

The first law and social justice pathway class is set to begin in the fall, and the number of student sign-ups has already exceeded the class capacity, Meehan said at the meeting.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, however, noted that while he appreciated BPD’s efforts to improve policy, he was concerned that several recommendations the council referred to city staff had not been addressed by BPD. Among these recommendations were limitations on police searches, a ban on handcuffing civilians prior to arrest and the demilitarization of BPD.

Additionally, Arreguin — as well as other community members — expressed a desire that BPD publish a report on data concerning age, race and gender in pedestrian- and traffic-related police stops.

“There needs to be a lot of examination internally in order to take (the data) really seriously,” said Police Review Commission member George Lippman. “Progress starts by recognizing the harm that’s been done.”

Meehan stressed, however, that BPD was updating the council on short-term actions and that the department would continue to make policy changes in the future.

The Center for Policing Equity, a think tank that provides policy recommendations regarding law enforcement, is set to analyze data on Berkeley police stops and provide a report. Meehan noted that the police department had already begun efforts to reduce police officer bias, though BPD has not yet received the report.

“I do want to emphasize that we’re not waiting for the data — that we’re taking action now, and we’re continuing to take action,” Meehan said at the meeting.

 

Jessica Lynn is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jessicailynn.

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  • Paul-Kealoha Blake

    The community has been pressing for clear, concise, and documentable policy regarding access to digital documents. We have been seeking assurances regarding warrantless surveillance of the public. We have a tendency to see body cams as a benign method to document police behavior, however digital technology is much more powerful than that, and expanding daily.

  • Clark Sullivan

    Am I missing something? Nothing seems to be discussed about body cams except cost. There are many, many issues that need to be examined before any policy can be agreed upon. Technology can be a double edged sword and while at first glance, body cams seem to be a no-brainer in the documentation of police misconduct, it can also be used for warrantless, real-time surveillance of the public…

  • still trying

    Cameras may force BPD to be more professional. I know the Chief will not force them to do their jobs because he spends most of his time defending their abuse and incompetence, while trying to keep his own job.

  • Iceland_1622

    NY Times: Police Body Cameras: What Do You See? http://nyti.ms/1SFyRgo