Long-deferred, police conduct to be scrutinized by Berkeley City Council on Tuesday

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Joshua Jordan/File

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Berkeley City Council will convene Tuesday to discuss two public safety issues that have been long postponed: racial disparity within Berkeley Police Department and reforming the Berkeley Police Review Commission.

This week’s meeting will mark the fourth time these two items have been on the council’s meeting agenda in 2017, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington. Both have already been delayed three times this year.

If approved by the council, one of the items will advise BPD to address disparate racial treatment in police practices and implement reforms. The council tabled this item at its last regular meeting.

Worthington said that although the council has recently postponed discussion of the disparate racial treatment, he is hopeful the item will move forward at this week’s meeting. He added that racial disparity must first and foremost be acknowledged as a “moral issue,” rather than a political one.

“I think racism is like alcoholism,” Worthington said in reference to the disparate racial treatment item. “The first step is to admit there’s a problem, and the second step is to try to cure it.”

A proposal for the PRC to develop a ballot measure to amend its charter — another item related to policing that the council has repeatedly postponed — is also included in this week’s meeting agenda. Councilmember Kate Harrison pointed to transparency and citizen oversight of the PRC as the primary goals of the proposal.

PRC has expressed frustration in recent months over its lack of influence and inability to effect change in regard to policing in Berkeley. In an email to the council, Moni Law, a lawyer and campus alumna who attended the last council meeting Oct. 31, expressed concern about the lack of an amendment to PRC over the past 45 years. She stated in the email that the commission is “sorely overdue for reform.”

“This (proposed amendment) is a modernization of the role of community oversight that is part of a national trend and a regional trend in the Bay Area,” said PRC chair George Lippman. “Only a charter amendment can effectuate the changes we need.”

In addition to these public safety issues, the council will discuss the implementation of the Affordable Housing Action Plan referrals. According to the meeting action calendar, the agenda item outlines new projects that could potentially be added to programs currently offered by the city that aim to address the housing crisis in Berkeley.

On Tuesday, the council will also consider relocating the council chambers from its current location at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, either by spending about $1.3 million to construct a new chamber at 1011 University Ave. or by finding an alternative, less expensive option. Seismic safety concerns at the current chamber location are a contributing factor to the council’s potential relocation.

Worthington said he believes the council should pursue alternative locations, such as Berkeley Unified School District’s newly constructed meeting space.

“We urgently need money for infrastructure, homelessness, transportation, public safety. We have so many things we need money for,” Worthington said. “Does it really make sense to spend over a million (dollars) on this? I don’t think so.”

Contact Danielle Kaye at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @danielledkaye.

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  • George Lippman

    One clarification: the charter amendment proposed in tonight’s council agenda refers to the city charter, not the Police Review Commission charter, which is an ordinance passed by the electorate in 1973. The strongest elements of the PRC ordinance were invalidated by a court because they conflicted with powers reserved for the city manager by the city charter, which serves as a constitution for the City.
    This is the reason that a mere update to the PRC’s mandate will not deliver the accountability that the electorate intended.
    George Lippman
    Police Review Commission

  • C Bierbauer78

    Berkeley PD are no more professional than the Hanford PD. Hicks with badges to cover them from responsibility as they treat innocent civilians like animals and get away with crimes from stalking, assault, theft all the way up to murder.

    Remember. Every badge hides a criminal.