Berkeley may soon have a new police accountability commission

Alvin Wu/File

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A push toward broader control of police accountability is coming to Berkeley.

Two competing proposals to modify current police accountability measures are in the works to be placed on the November 2018 ballot, focusing on regulating police policies and practices.

The first proposal — an initiative measure to create an elected Police Accountability Board — was put forth by the Campaign for Police Accountability and is now in the process of petition, according to Russ Tilleman, a member of the campaign.

The second proposal was formed by the Berkeley Coalition for Police Accountability, or BCPA.  This proposal is focused on forming a new coalition called the “Police Commission,” which is based off of the original Police Review Commission, or PRC, but would wield more responsibilities and authority over the police.

“Something really needs to be done,” Tilleman said. “The problems in Berkeley. … (Police) have been beating up protestors at politically fueled events. That’s a crime against the democratic process; it gets into the realm of the police illegally interfering with the elections. This (measure) has ramifications far beyond Berkeley. … After this, it will be easier for cities to do the same.”

If passed, these new groups would replace or supersede the current PRC. The PRC was formed to ensure the Berkeley Police Department acts in accordance to community standards, and it has the power to make policy recommendations and hear individual complaints, according to the city of Berkeley’s website.

The newly proposed commissions focus on gaining supervision and control of BPD. Their proposals include having the power to oversee the removal or hiring of law enforcement officers and employees, as well as investigating into the affairs of the police department.

According to Tilleman, the plan for the Police Accountability Board — the first proposed commission —  is to gain more community control over the police.

“Right now the police do pretty much whatever they want now,” Tilleman said. “The new group will have the authority to solve pretty much any problem that comes along, the way it’s written. … They are empowered to be in full control, in hiring and firing, in weaponry, the uniforms, the equipment, everything.”

The initiative measure of the Police Accountability Board stated that the purpose of controlling BPD included “ensuring safe and effective policing for everyone in Berkeley regardless of race, gender, orientation, religion, disability, country or origin or economic status” as well as “protecting the community from excessive use of force by police; and holding police accountable for their actions.

Whereas the Police Commission — the second proposed commission — would have an appointed board, the Police Accountability Board would have nine elected commissioners after its first two years.

Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who recommended reform of police accountability to the City Council in 2017, said he strongly supported an amendment.

“A diverse coalition convened by the NAACP has worked for several years to increase public understanding of needed reforms,” Worthington said in an email. “We should respect their efforts and work together for one Charter Amendment proposal. The draft they have discussed is more powerful, and practical as well as being built on widespread participation for several years.”

Sahana Matthews, chair of the PRC and part of the group forming the BCPA, said she believed PRC’s powers and regulations were “out of date and need to be reformed” and that many members of the PRC are supporting the new coalition for the Police Commission.

Police Review Commissioner Andrea Prichett said she believed that there have been more police officer misconduct incidents, but because the current process is compromised, less citizens come forward with their complaints against BPD.

“We would like to have effective boards of inquiry or powers of enforcement,” Prichett said. “We would like to have something in the city as a deterrent for police misconduct.”

The BCPA held a meeting Thursday night, at which the group explained its proposal for the Police Commission and assigned subcommittees, according to Matthews. The group also negotiated with Tilleman at the meeting about his “conflicting” proposal, and will meet once again Tuesday night.

Mary Kelly Ford covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MaryKellyFord1.

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  • cliff smith

    Berkeley was the birthplace of the movement for Community Control Over the Police led by Bobby Seale in 1970 after the killing of Lil Bobby Hutton. The Panthers succeeded in placing the question on the ballot but, under attack by the government, the referendum was not successful, although supported by then mayor Ron Dellums.


    • Russ Tilleman


      “all-elected, all-civilian, police control boards” Berkeley

  • TheBerkeleyTruth

    Oh, and if you’re going to write an article involving Berkeley PD, you may want to use a photo depicting Berkeley PD Officers… Not Oakland PD.

  • TheBerkeleyTruth

    In the last year, Berkeley PD had more than a dozen Officers leave Berkeley for other law enforcement agencies… That’s more Officers than the previous 10 years combined.

    Berkeley has become a toxic place to work as a Police Officer. No reasonable person would want to be an Officer here. If one of these initiatives passes, you’ll see more Officers leave, and few people applying for the open positions.

    • Russ Tilleman

      It will be a great day for Berkeley when every officer who refuses to be accountable to the community quits.

      A lot of people want to be cops. With a clean department, it will be easy to staff up.

      • TheBerkeleyTruth

        I’m sorry, but can you please explain how Berkeley Police Officers are not accountable to our Community?

        • Russ Tilleman

          To quote your statement that I was responding to “If one of these initiatives passes, you’ll see more Officers leave”. I interpret that as you saying they will quit BECAUSE an initiative passes that will hold them accountable for their actions. And what kind of officer would do that? Or maybe you expect bad BPD cops to be fired and leave that way.

          Here is something I would consider “not accountable”, splitting open an innocent minister’s head at a political protest and not getting fired for it. And then there were the multiple cases of officers beating up San Francisco Chronicle photographers who were on duty in Berkeley, exercising their First Amendment rights of freedom of the press.

          Or how about this, the City of Berkeley paying $125,000 in damages to innocent people beaten by police, and that money not coming out of the paychecks of the officers who did the beating?

          Maybe you consider attacking innocent people and putting them in the hospital and then hiding being the police union as being accountable. I do not.

          • TheBerkeleyTruth

            Mr. Tilleman,

            Thank you for the clarification.

            I’m sorry if I was unclear in my statement. I meant that if one of the resolutions pass, I’m afraid it will be the “final straw” for many of our Officers. I don’t believe any Berkeley PD Officer fears accountability. If they did, they wouldn’t step one foot into the challenging streets of Berkeley. I believe they fear the ever-growing anti-Police sentiment that appears to be held by many of our fellow Community members.

            I’m curious… Do you know any Berkeley Police Officers on a first name basis? Have you asked them directly how they feel about working in our City? I think you’ll be surprised how open and honest they’ll be if you simply engage them in conversation.

          • Russ Tilleman

            There seems to be a confrontational relationship between BPD and many members of the community, and I think that is unfortunate for people on both sides of it. We believe a Police Accountability Board can improve that relationship by providing a forum for important issues to be discussed and resolved.

            A surprising number of people I have talked with in the last year have stories about people they know being beaten up or otherwise mistreated by BPD officers. One rode his bicycle through a red light and ended up badly beaten. One had an open container in public and ended up beaten. One went to a Black Lives Matter protest and was run down by an officer on a motorcycle.

            These things might represent a small fraction of the interactions between BPD and community members, but it only takes a few incidents like this to understandably destroy the rapport between police and the community. There might even be one badly trained officer behind all these incidents, but one officer’s behavior can tarnish an entire department.

            With a Police Accountability Board, the community will have a way to thoroughly address incidents like this. And that can rebuild the community’s shattered trust in the police. Which I believe is the main cause of the current hostility.

            Ensuring police are accountable for their actions means that when a member of the community interacts with an officer, they can be sure that officer can be trusted. Officers would effectively be certified by the Board as safe and effective.

            All of my interactions with BPD officers have been when they are on duty. I don’t know if you have had the experience of someone with a gun threatening to start shooting when you are unarmed and haven’t done anything wrong, but it leaves a lingering feeling that BPD is dangerously out of control. You have no way of knowing if it was an inappropriate comment by a basically good officer, or a threat by someone with anger management issues, that needs to be taken seriously.

            At the present time, there isn’t a good forum for addressing police-community issues like these. And that is the goal of the Police Accountability Board. Not to make officers’ jobs more difficult, but to maintain an effective chain of command from the community to every officer.

            The Police Accountability Board is modelled after the School Board, the Rent Board, and the City Council. An elected board of citizens has ultimate authority over a department whose day-to-day management is handled by an appointed expert. In this case a Chief of Police, in the other cases a School Superintendent, Rent Commission manager or City Manager.

            Berkeley can set a new standard for American policing, and at the same time resolve the issues that are pushing so many BPD officers to leave for other departments. The community deserves safe and effective policing from BPD, and BPD deserves the respect and cooperation of the community.

            We believe the Police Accountability Board is the best way to achieve those goals.

          • Russ Tilleman

            I should add that our amendment transfers the authority over the Berkeley Police Department from the ineffective joint control of the City Manager and City Council to an independent, dedicated, elected Police Accountability Board that can focus 100 percent on policing issues.

            Good police officers should have nothing to fear from the new structure. In addition to giving the community a forum to address issues, it will also give BPD and individual officers a forum for addressing issues that affect them.

          • lspanker

            There seems to be a confrontational relationship between BPD and many members of the community

            That’s because certain people in the community are either geriatric 1960’s hippie holdovers or left-wing violent Antifa types who think they should have free rein to beat up people with whom they disagree. These people go looking for a fight, and are shocked then they get one…

          • Russ Tilleman

            According to the Daily Cal article “80 percent of Berkeley police officers considering leaving, survey says”, Most BPD officers go looking for a job with another department and they can’t get one…

            Why haven’t they all left? What does that say about the quality of Berkeley police officers, that other departments won’t hire them?

            The free market doesn’t lie, if something doesn’t sell, there is a reason.

          • lspanker

            Why haven’t they all left? What does that say about the quality of Berkeley police officers, that other departments won’t hire them?

            What does it say about Russ Tillman when he constantly insults local law enforcement personnel and accuses them of brutality, but when asked to support his position with sources and cites, he just says “google it”? Is Russ Tillman lazy, full of [email protected], or both?

          • Russ Tilleman

            This sounds like an excellent topic for an open public discussion.

            As a candidate for Berkeley City Council District 8, I will be participating in the upcoming public forums. I invite you to attend and join in the discussion. And if you live in District 8, you are welcome to vote against me if you don’t agree with my answers.

            I will be running against incumbent Lori Droste, who took the maximum legally allowed amount of campaign money from the Berkeley police union, and then refused to support her constituents on this issue. As she has refused to support her constituents on other issues in the past.

            BTW, I posted links here previously, and the commenting system removed them.

            For anyone who has difficulty using google, here is a quote from the National Lawyers Guild article about the unprovoked Berkeley Police Department attack on peaceful Black Live Matter protesters:

            “The settlement, which is expected to be approved at the February 14, 2017, Berkeley City Council meeting, includes policy changes intended to prevent a recurrence of the police misconduct, and $125,000 for seven plaintiffs.”

            And from the CBS article about the unprovoked Berkeley Police Department attack on peaceful Stop Urban Shield protesters at the City Council meeting:

            “Lewis Williams, 74, a retired elementary school teacher, alleges that an unknown officer hit him on the back of the head with a baton outside the auditorium, causing a laceration and a concussion.

            Williams said in a statement, “I felt this blow on top of my head and then blood came streaming out. It seemed totally gratuitous that they would hit me like that.””

          • lspanker

            “Lewis Williams, 74, a retired elementary school teacher, alleges that an unknown officer hit him on the back of the head with a baton outside the auditorium, causing a laceration and a concussion.

            What a load of steaming excrement. A bunch of crazies tried to charge a stage, some guy got knocked in the head in the middle of the rush, didn’t see who it was, but SWEARS it MUST have been those evil, nasty cops. It’s nonsense like that that gives you NO credibility on this issue whatsoever.

  • lspanker

    “Something really needs to be done,” Tilleman said. “The problems in Berkeley. … (Police) have been beating up protestors at politically fueled events.

    Dunno where you have been, but it’s not the police who have been beating people up…

    • Russ Tilleman

      To see some examples of Berkeley Police excessive force, google

      lawsuit over Berkeley police brutality


      lawsuit Berkeley police urban shield

      • lspanker

        How about posting them here yourself, if they really exist?

  • Woolsey

    Yes, yes, we need more constraints on the police. After all, Crime only jumped 23% last year and they still arrest underserved minorities for committing “alleged” crimes. Can you believe that. Plus, Cal students don’t seem to mind providing their laptops and other electronics to the criminal youth of Berkeley.

  • flashsteve

    I am pretty sure that many of these proposals get into contract provisions between the City and the Police Union, and therefore will never happen; but, they do make good sound bites.

    • Russ Tilleman

      The Police Accountability Board amendment to Berkeley’s City Charter gives the authority for the police contract negotiations to the new Board. See