On Wednesday evening, the Berkeley Police Review Commission voted to open an investigation into Berkeley Police Department’s handling of the demonstrations at City Council’s June 20 special meeting.
At the meeting, BPD arrested two protesters for storming the front of the stage after the council voted to continue participating in Urban Shield. At least one community member was also struck on the head with a police baton the same night.
PRC members debated the most strategic way to move forward with the investigation. The commission ultimately voted 6-1 to open an investigation to determine whether the police response during and after the June 20 meeting was appropriate, and to create a subcommittee for that purpose.
The subcommittee includes commissioners Andrea Prichett, Elliot Halpern and Terry Roberts.
During public comment, Berkeley resident Ellen Brotsky said it was “ironic” that the June 20 council meeting had to do with “how Urban Shield trains police to treat the community as enemies,” and ended in police escalation of a nonviolent demonstration.
At the meeting, Lewis Williams — the community member who was clubbed in the head with a baton after the June 20 meeting — said he filed a complaint with the PRC concerning BPD’s behavior.
“What disturbs me about this is the BPD website claims they are ethical, fair and trustworthy in all they do,” Williams said. “I read a police statement saying police may have been hit by demonstrators. But no demonstrator had any hard object as far as I could see.”
Roberts said at Wednesday’s meeting he would like to determine if BPD was acting appropriately under current policies. He added that if the subcommittee finds this is not the case or the current policy should be changed, the issue should move to a different subcommittee.
Prichett, on the other hand, expressed her wishes for an approach to the issue that acknowledges the broader issue of police militarization.
“We already have newly revised crowd control policies,” Prichett said at the meeting. “What are we investigating? Are we going to revise our revised policies?”
The commissioners also discussed the upcoming release of data regarding BPD traffic stop reasons and use of force with BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood.
Greenwood said at the meeting he has contacted the Center for Policing Equity, the third-party service compiling the report, and is waiting to hear back from CPE about the road map for its completion.
In response to this announcement, Prichett asked Greenwood if he currently has plans to help combat profiling and bias in his department.
“I don’t think (the report) precludes the urgent business of figuring out how to bring a greater consciousness to the department around issues of bias,” Prichett said.
Greenwood responded that his officers already receive training about fair and impartial policing, and that he will not be taking further action before he can “look at the analysis” in the report.
Greenwood did, however, announce at the meeting that his department will be taking action to connect with the community through a new series of public forums. At the forums, community members will be able to provide input on BPD’s performance, learn about different elements of the police department and speak with officers who patrol their areas of residence.
The forums will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. July 17 at the Berkeley Adult School, Aug. 8 at the South Branch Library, Aug. 24 at the Berkeley Jewish Community Center and Sept. 7 at a to-be-determined location.
Commissioner Ari Yampolsky said the forums are a positive development. According to Yampolsky, it is important for the police department to interact with the community outside of a policing context so BPD can hear from as broad a spectrum of people as possible.
Greenwood also announced at the meeting that BPD will be accepting applications throughout July and August from both police school graduates and those new to the profession. Greenwood voiced his interest in having people who are from the community work in the police department.
Wednesday’s PRC meeting was also commissioner George Lippman’s first meeting as chair of the PRC. After the meeting, Yampolsky praised Lippman’s performance and said the leadership change was “exciting.”
According to PRC secretary Katherine Lee, at the next PRC meeting commissioners plan to discuss observing the annual Urban Shield exercise in September, as well as consider an ordinance that will focus regular attention on the city’s use of surveillance technology.