Berkeley officials call for increased transparency on police use of force

Yiran Chen/Staff

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Councilmember Kate Harrison hosted a town hall meeting Wednesday to discuss Berkeley Police Department’s policies on transparency, use of force and surveillance.

The panel for the open forum consisted of Harrison, Police Review Commission Chair George Lippman and Tracy Rosenberg, a citizen activist with Oakland Privacy, an organization that aims to defend citizens’ rights to privacy. The panel discussed how to best protect civil rights and liberties when considering police transparency, use of force and surveillance techniques.

Harrison addressed the need for substantial data to support cases of how race affects the disparity in police officers’ use of force. Lippman also said many Black constituents have described their experiences with police officers as “dangerous.”

Harrison pointed out that there is no data that shows whether people are stopped by police because of a warrant or at the officer’s discretion. Harrison added that the use of force by an officer is only reported in the case of visible weapons, a complaint or an injury.

“(With data on police’s use of force), the government would be able to look at patterns (and) figure out how to make things better,” Harrison said at the meeting.

At the meeting, some community members raised concerns about why BPD has delayed releasing information about the department’s use of force.

Harrison said she is not in favor of waiting for the most recent studies on police force, as the disparities between race have been apparent throughout past studies. She said she hopes BPD will consider hiring a data analyst.

“Part of what happened is political events last summer were used as a shield for not moving forward,” Harrison said at the meeting.

During the meeting, Lippman discussed how to establish police accountability and enhance oversight by PRC. Lippman stressed the need for a charter amendment to change the organization and procedures of PRC.

According to Lippman, BPD currently considers use of force to be reasonable and necessary in certain situations. He said, however, that PRC will consider changing the standard to only using minimal force.

“(The charter amendment) would give (the) new commission more power over policy and over discipline and the workings and priorities that the department currently has,” Lippman said.

The amendment can be put on the ballot in two ways — either through the vote of City Council or through 1,200 community members’ signatures. Lippman added that he hopes to have help from students and local organizations, whose influence will depend on the willingness and capacity of people to do community organizing.

At the meeting, Rosenberg also spoke about a new ordinance that would address surveillance systems. She encouraged residents to support the ordinance at a City Council meeting Dec. 5.

“Interests in local government transparency and accountability to the community should be a joint decision making process,” Rosenberg said. “Not everyone experiences police in the same way.”

Contact Gioia von Staden at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @GioiaVon.

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  • Woolsey

    Harrison and the PRC will not be happy until the police department is disbanded. There’s a reason that Berkeley has almost 3 times the violent crime of Albany and Piedmont per capita. There’s a reason criminals come to Berkeley to specifically target students. The PRC and their supporters like Harrison have done their best to prevent the police from doing their job. Been raped, robbed? You know who to thank.

    • starchild

      I guess so – if you think the police “doing their job” means spying on civilians without a warrant, using excessive force, and generally being unaccountable to civilian authorities.

      • Woolsey

        Unaccountable? Please…the Berkeley police force has more oversight than probably any police force in the world. They spend so much time filling out paperwork and addressing other constraints that we have an excessive crime rate. Of course, the PRC doesn’t care if we have lots of violent crime, they are totally focused on protecting the criminals rather than the victims. Walk around People’s Park at night – see how it works out for you.

        • starchild

          Accountable? Please tell me what penalties have been incurred by BPD officers who, contrary to policy, have collaborated with the Feds.

          Maybe if some members of society – largely those with a stake in profiting from over-criminalization, but also a lot of moralizing NIMBY/busybody types – didn’t create so many bad laws without overwhelming social consensus behind them, making criminals out of so many of us for doing things they don’t like but that are not actually harming anyone, the crime rate that you complain about would be lower…

          Oh, and I have walked around People’s Park at night, no problems. The biggest worry I had was being cited for being there minding my own business, since according to government officials (who are supposed to leave our park alone) it “closes” at 10pm – another superfluous law.

          • Woolsey

            Our park? That’s funny. It’s certainly not a park for the People of Berkeley unless they don’t care about a park denizen cramming meth in the mouth of one of their kids or maybe getting mugged. The crime I “complain about” is violent crime and no, laws against rape, assault, etc are not “bad laws.” You’re upset that BPD collaborates with the Feds. Heck, they don’t collaborate enough and consequently, we have many illegals here committing crimes without consequence.

          • starchild

            My understanding is it’s a park for all the people, whether they live in Berkeley or not, not a park that’s supposed to be run by government. In practice it has largely (and sadly) meant being a park for people who are marginalized and criminalized and pushed out of other spaces.

            “…a park denizen cramming meth in the mouth of one of their kids…” – and this has happened how often, you say?

            Nothing like a bit of over-hyped fear-mongering on a Sunday morning!

            If the only crimes you complain about are violent crimes like rape and assault – which I agree are actual crimes – then why do you use the right-wing, anti-immigration term “illegals”? No human being is “illegal”, and crossing a border without government permission is not a violent crime; indeed under the Constitution it is not a crime at all.

  • Tracey Birkenhauer

    All of the issues addressed by Harrison could be remedied if law enforcement used Force LMS –