Berkeley City Council must stop avoiding the much-needed conversation about police oversight

CITY AFFAIRS: If the council actually wants to address police accountability, it needs to sit down and talk about it


Berkeley likes to tout itself as a forward-thinking haven. Its politicians and public figures pay lip service to progressive ideals. So let’s take a quick look at the city’s track record on adequate police oversight.

In June 2016, Councilmember Kriss Worthington brought an agenda item to Berkeley City Council that would create a ballot measure adjusting the city charter and giving more power to the police oversight committee.

Back then, Mayor Tom Bates was running the meeting and, in typical Bates fashion, he placed the contentious item at the end of the meeting agenda. He later postponed discussion on the proposal not once, but twice, before finally letting the proposal die when the council left for recess and missed the deadline to submit ballot measures for the then-upcoming local election.

So as City Council failed to give voters the chance to demand more police accountability, Oakland officials approved a similar proposal, got it on the November 2016 ballot and saw voters overwhelmingly approve a major revamp and empowerment of their police review commission.

And Berkeley’s Police Review Commission, or PRC, is in desperate need of revamping. As it stands, the body is toothless, with virtually no means to act on troubling trends or incidents within Berkeley Police Department. In the past, Mayor Jesse Arreguín has completely disregarded the commission, failing to ask for its input when rushing to pass an overzealous policy to allow BPD to use pepper spray. The commission’s findings that Berkeley police officers stop and search Black residents more often than white residents came and went with little movement by city officials to pass new reforms.

Recently, Worthington sponsored a proposed ballot measure to replace the existing PRC with a new independent entity to oversee police actions. The new commission would be able to initiate its own investigations into police conduct, and it would have greater power to force changes within the police department without City Council approval.

You’d think a push for more police oversight would fare better this year. A progressive majority took the council in 2016, and Arreguín seemed to share Worthington’s concerns about the way Bates organized his meeting agendas.

But it’s been more of the same. At its last meeting, the council decided not to discuss the proposed item — and instead postponed it indefinitely.

What trash. It’s time for the council to stop delaying this conversation and properly tackle the police accountability that residents desperately want.

This commission has the incredible capacity to shed a light on the department’s failures and missteps. It was the PRC, through a 2014 investigation into the in-custody death of Kayla Moore, a Black transgender woman, that found that one officer exercised improper police procedure. But without the authority to act on its discoveries, the PRC can’t be the effective oversight body it was meant to be.

The proposed ballot measure isn’t perfect — giving a member-appointed body the power to fire police officers at will without any City Council oversight, for example, is excessive. And most PRC members don’t agree about whether it’s a worthwhile solution. But this effort comes from a place of need, and the least City Council can do is discuss it.

City Council is just burying its head in the sand hosting town halls and making hollow statements of support. It’s time for the council to actually walk the walk.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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  • Disqusted

    Berkeley police need more support, not more “accountability.” Given the number of CAL students that have become victims of violent crime and robberies in Berkeley you might think that the DailyCal editorial board would focus on students safety. Berkeley Police are among the best trained and most professional police in the USA.

    • lspanker

      The Daily Cal editorial board clearly doesn’t give a damn about student safety. They are a bunch of indoctrinated little children regurgitating the talking points of their left-wing handlers.

      • BerCaley

        How do you say yawn in Russian?

        • lspanker

          A wise man speaks up because he has something to say.
          A fool speaks up because he has to say something.

          Clearly you had nothing to say, but HAD to say something…

          • BerCaley

            And a vodka sotted troll gets paid to say something. This vodka also produces no originality.

            You’ve used this wise man cliche before.

          • lspanker

            And a vodka sotted troll gets paid to say something.

            I don’t drink vodka or any other neutral spirits. The occasional glass of wine is about as strong as it gets for me (I’m more of an IPA and stout type of guy myself).

            You’ve used this wise man cliche before.

            And it fits you to a T, so what exactly are you complaining about again?

  • That Guy

    I did not see evidence given that Berkeley residents “desperately” want this. In a classic piece of misdirection there is a link to an affordable housing meeting with apparently no comments on the police by actual residents.

  • lspanker

    And Berkeley’s Police Review Commission, or PRC, is in desperate need of revamping. As it stands, the body is toothless, with virtually no means to act on troubling trends or incidents within Berkeley Police Department.

    NAME these “troubling incidents”. Go ahead. Most of them involve complaints about the cops having to handle combatant violent and/or mentally ill people, because the complainants operate from some la-di-dah Utopian mindset and think that cops should never be allowed to use any force whatsoever…

    • California Defender

      I’ve never understood why BPD tries so hard to enforce the law in Berkeley. They get no thanks for it, so why not take it easy?

      Relax guys. Let the Berkeleyites have their SJW “utopia”. You get paid no matter how high the crime rate goes and everybody outside the bubble would fully understand.