More than 40 people attended Berkeley Police Department’s inaugural community forum at the Berkeley Adult School on Monday night.
The forum, the first of four, is designed to give attendees an opportunity to interact with police officers from throughout the department, according to a BPD press release.
“We’re looking at recalibrating, looking at strategic planning, looking at the future of policing in Berkeley very seriously in terms of wanting to get community input,” BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood said in his opening remarks.
Greenwood began by explaining the motivations for creating the community forums and discussed future initiatives on officer mental wellness and the implementation of police body cameras. Greenwood also outlined BPD’s mission, vision and values, which he said were rebranded by the department in December.
“Our fundamental mission is to safeguard our very diverse community through proactive law enforcement and problem-solving while treating everybody with dignity and respect,” Greenwood said in his speech.
Following his remarks, Greenwood answered questions from community members for nearly 50 minutes, touching upon topics such as police militarization, racial profiling, staffing numbers, overtime during protests and the budget, among other issues.
During the question portion of the forum, Berkeley resident Erin Waddell said someone she knew was wrongfully arrested and physically harmed by BPD for attempting to break into his own car.
“That was a really upsetting experience for my household and my close friends,” said Jocelyn de Sena, a friend of Waddell, before the forum. “I don’t think that’s the image that the Berkeley police strive for, so it’s great that they’re getting some feedback on situations like that.”
As Greenwood closed the question portion, he encouraged attendees to engage with officers and professional staff from the department who were seated around the room.
The forums are part of an effort to improve police-community relations, according to BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel.
BPD Sgt. Spencer Fomby, one of about 20 officers present at the forum, was frustrated with the lack of engagement that he experienced with community members.
“A lot of people that have strong opinions about what we do as police, they’re not even asking questions,” Fomby said. “Some of the most critical people, instead of asking questions, are trying to convince me based on their personal beliefs.”
According to Greenwood, the forum was a “preliminary success” in creating dialogue between officers and community members. He added that sharing information about the police department and understanding community concerns were two of his goals for the forum, both of which were accomplished.
“I could hear some questions from the community, some of which are difficult, but I want to have those discussions,” Greenwood said. “We want transparency … and ultimately, we want our decisions to be based on facts and data and not fear.”