‘We need to reform the system’: Berkeley City Council opposes ballot measure to replace current Police Review Commission

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Anissa Nishioka/File

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A proposed ballot measure to replace the Police Review Commission, or PRC, with an independent entity for police oversight was met with strong opposition — and was ultimately postponed indefinitely by the Berkeley City Council at its regular Tuesday meeting.

The proposed charter amendment, titled Berkeley Community United for Police Oversight Ballot Measure, was aimed at improving oversight of the Berkeley Police Department through the creation of a new commission called the Berkeley Police Commission. This new commission would hold the power to initiate its own investigations and would be independent of the city manager’s office.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington was the sole author of the agenda item containing the charter amendment, but said he is not tied to the proposed amendment in its current form. Rather, he said he intended for Tuesday’s agenda item to be a “conversation-starter” in order to create momentum for a ballot measure this year.

The charter amendment comes after months of discussion about the PRC’s lack of influence and inability to enact change.

The proposed charter amendment raised concerns among council members and community members. One public commenter said she felt that the proposal promotes an “anti-police mentality,” while Councilmember Kate Harrison said that while she does not oppose the idea of implementing a charter amendment, she opposes this particular proposal because of the lack of council influence.

“I feel like just becoming the new boss, replacing the old manager, doesn’t improve any of the investigatory functions,” Harrison said.

The city’s PRC was established as an ordinance in 1973 to “ensure that Berkeley police officers act in a manner that conforms to community standards,” according to the PRC website. This ordinance conflicted with the city charter, which states that the city manager is responsible for all police oversight, PRC chair George Lippman said.

“We want to reverse that decision by making it a charter amendment rather than a simple ordinance,” Lippman, who is a member of the Berkeley Community United for Police Oversight coalition that promotes the charter amendment, said.

In early March, the PRC released a report stating Black residents in Berkeley are six times more likely to experience police use of force than white residents.

Lippman said inequitable treatment in policing has not yet been addressed by BPD — a fact that he said he believes the PRC could change if given more power. He added that police oversight strengthens policing and increases public safety by improving the relationship between the police department and the broader community.

“If this council doesn’t really engage in this conversation in the next month or two, then we’ll be delayed two or three more years,” Worthington said. “Justice delayed is justice denied, so another two years is really immoral when it’s been clearly stated by the community that we need to reform the system.”

Danielle Kaye is the lead city government reporter.. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @danielledkaye.