On Friday afternoon, the Berkeley Police Department spoke with community members over coffee — sans donuts — in an effort to open communication between the police and the community.
Acting Police Chief Andrew Greenwood, four police officers and more than 25 residents met at Mo’Joe Cafe, where people raised issues such as traffic safety, police use of force, recent shootings and how to best communicate with the department. The event also provided an opportunity for Greenwood to introduce himself. Greenwood took over the chief position after Michael Meehan resigned Sept. 20.
“For him to be in the community when there’s not something wrong (in the community) is a very good start,” said Doris Floyd, a resident of South Berkeley and a parishioner of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Berkeley.
Greenwood said BPD hosted the event — with an earlier meeting Friday morning at Sweet Adeline Bakeshop — to coincide with National Coffee with a Cop Day because of recent acts of violence in the South Berkeley neighborhood, including two homicides.
“Our department stands well ready to move into the future along paths that have already been identified and in ways that we probably can’t imagine yet,” Greenwood said. “I’m honored that I’d be entrusted to care for the department.”
BPD has recently completed in-house crisis intervention training, which focuses on handling mental health crises, according to Greenwood. In addition, every officer has participated in an eight-hour “fair and impartial policing” training, which focuses on how biases can affect decision making.
The emphasis on these trainings comes as the family of Kayla Moore, a Black transgender Berkeley resident diagnosed with schizophrenia who died in police custody, brings a wrongful death lawsuit against the city to court.
“We’re in a progressive position, being alert and aware for opportunities to train people to propagate a culture that already exists,” Greenwood said during the event. “The actions that any officer takes … can go down a slow and easy path … versus a path based on recognition of authority.”
The first internal priority of BPD is staffing, Greenwood said during the meeting, which was a major point of contention within the department prior to Meehan’s resignation. He added that the department is moving from 14 beats to 16, which will allow officers to focus on smaller areas. The maps of the redefined beats will be made public by early November, Greenwood said.
“This is an important opportunity to watch the interface with the police department and the community,” said Mark Coplan, a candidate for the South Berkeley City Council District 3 seat. “I think that Meehan was doing a fine job. The difference with Andy is we have someone who grew up in the community (and there’s) a lot more trust in a case like that. I think he’ll be able to get a lot more accomplished.”
Moving forward, the Police Review Commission, which ensures that BPD acts according to community standards, will focus on implementing the use of body cameras and working to prevent biased policing, said chair George Perezvelez.
“The commissioners welcome (Greenwood) gladly and wish him luck in his new job,” Perezvelez said. “This is not a combative situation, but a symbiotic give-and-take.”
During the meeting, Greenwood also offered tips as to how Berkeley residents can protect themselves and their belongings. He said to not leave anything in a parked car, to look around your house at night to identify vulnerabilities and to request that an officer come to speak at a neighborhood meeting to address specific concerns.
“I was just wanting to meet the new chief, and understand his way of wanting to police the community,” said Rev. Tony Hughes of the Berkeley St. Paul AME Church. “From an African-American perspective … there has been overzealous policing. It’s going to be hard for anyone to strike the balance. We want to be in the conversation.”
Greenwood said he anticipates holding similar events in the future.
“These types of community engagements are great,” said BPD Officer Nikos Kastmiler. “It seems that everyone walked away from here with a good understanding.”