Police recordings, privacy dominate discussion at 1st PRC meeting since recess

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Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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The question of citizen privacy and the use of police recordings were central topics at the first Police Review Commission, or PRC, meeting since its summer recess Wednesday.

Commissioners discussed issues of privacy and policy regarding body-worn cameras in the police force as well as the department’s reaction to a protest Aug. 5.

The meeting, held at the South Berkeley Senior Center, featured questions about the legality of a traffic officer recording a civilian during a traffic stop. Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood revealed that many officers record traffic stops. During the meeting, discussion also arose about the police department’s use of Twitter to post mugshots of arrestees after a protest in August and whether doing so endangered the individuals in the pictures.

“I was surprised to hear that an officer had secretly recorded the traffic stop. What policies or guidance do officers have in that regard?” Police Review Commissioner Andrea Prichett asked during the meeting.

Police Review Commissioner Kitty Calavita questioned Chief Greenwood about the process by which recordings of traffic stops are released to the public.

Greenwood defended the police department’s use of recording devices in traffic stops, saying that recording is a common practice for law enforcement and is not a new occurrence.

“Officers have been recording traffic stops using small visual recorders for, I would say, decades,” Chief Greenwood said. “It’s a common practice in law enforcement. … There is not a reasonable expectation of privacy, and traffic officers recording traffic stops have been recording with small visual recorders for decades.”

This discussion also took place in light of a body-worn camera policy that Chief Greenwood anticipates will be issued about Sept. 29.

The commission also questioned the chief about the police department’s conduct during a protest that took place at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Aug. 5. The police department issued a tweet about the arrests made at the protest, including the names and mugshots of those arrested.

“The issue of tweeting came up and the appropriateness of whether it was appropriate to tweet out photos of people who had been arrested on Aug. 5,” Prichett said during the meeting. We also have policies — in General Order R23 it says that mugshots should be released unless it might endanger someone.  Is it violation of policy R23 to have distributed those photos knowing about the antagonisms in these groups?”

According to the city’s General Order R23, it is prohibited by law to release a copy of a police report if the information in the report could “endanger a person, endanger the successful completion of the investigation or a related investigation, or constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.”

The meeting also featured the announcement of the police department’s Narcan program, which will allow police officers to carry a medication that can stop opioid overdoses.

Sabrina Dong covers crime and courts. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Sabrina_Dong_.