Berkeley Community United for Police Oversight launches campaign

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Julian Kilchling/Staff

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Berkeley Community United for Police Oversight, or BCUPO, launched its campaign for greater police accountability Sunday at the flea market on Ashby Avenue.

The coalition has deep roots in the community and advocates police reform and effective oversight, according to outreach committee representative George Lippman. Founded this year, the coalition has a number of endorsements and individual members, and includes numerous community organizations, including the Berkeley American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, and NAACP chapters.

The campaign aims to put community oversight of the police on the November ballot. According to Lippman, there are two methods of placing the amendment on the ballot: if the City Council votes to put it on the ballot or if the community gathers more than 12,000 signatures by May 5.

The item “Berkeley Community United for Police Oversight Ballot Measure” has been put on the agenda for the Berkeley City Council meeting on March 27.

In 1973, Berkeley voters created the Police Review Commission, or PRC. The citizens approved a mandate that the PRC have on-demand access to “written and unwritten information and assistance” from the Berkeley Police Department, or BPD, according to the BCUPO summary statement.

But it was enacted as an ordinance instead of a charter amendment. The BCUPO summary statement added that in 1976, the Court of Appeals “stripped the commission of its independence.”

The current commission is advisory and lacks the power to acquire confidential information from the police department, Lippman said.

“We can only give our opinion on whether or not a complaint against an individual officer should be sustained or not,” Lippman said. “Then we don’t even know what happens — it’s a closed book to us. We never find out if what we suggested had any impact or was even taken into consideration.”

The coalition submitted a ballot initiative Feb. 22 to the city clerk to create a stronger police review commission. According to a BCUPO flyer, the proposed charter amendment for a police commission will provide for strong civilian oversight for BPD. Lippman added that the petition was approved for circulation Friday.

“There is a lot of support on the campus for this. Even though they are served by a different police department, students are also affected by the city police department,” Lippman said. “There is a lot of joint overlap and joint concern about police accountability and police oversight.”

In addition to the signatures, the campaign aims to garner endorsements from organizations and prominent individuals, Lippman said.

Berkeley Community United for Police Oversight member Boona Cheema added that among other points, fiscal accountability of BPD is important for the campaign because the organization wants to ensure BPD is not “militarizing Berkeley more and more.”

“This particular effort has to do with looking for ways to make our public servants and police department more open and accountable, for them to be able to keep the community safe by looking at alternative ways of policing,” Cheema said.

Contact Jenny Weng at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jennyweng1999.