A deplorable delay

CITY AFFAIRS: Berkeley Police Department seriously mishandled communication following a death in its own custody.

Berkeley Police Department made a serious mistake in delaying the release of the autopsy report from the death of Kayla Moore — one which reflects poorly upon the department’s communication tactics.

Moore, a 41-year-old transgender Berkeley resident, died of an accidental drug overdose while in police custody in February, but the details of her death did not come to light until the release of the report on May 3 — nearly 3 months after her death.

A death in police custody is inherently an extremely sensitive situation — one which the department needed to communicate with the public about quickly and extensively.

Instead, not only was an autopsy report not released in a timely manner, but the police failed to provide a meaningful reason for the delay to the public.

Furthermore, before the death occurred in police custody, the autopsy should have been done by an outside agency other than the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Bureau to ensure its validity and rid the police department of unnecessary suspicion.

Employing an outside organization to complete an internal investigation is not unheard of. Following the events of Occupy Cal in November 2011, an independent review of police actions were ordered to make certain that no bias was involved.

Although department spokesperson Jennifer Coats apologized for the lengthy delay and noted that the department wanted to ensure a “proper and thorough investigation for Moore,” an apology is not enough.

If Berkeley Police Department expects to be valued and trusted by the people it aims to protect and serve, it needs to be prompt and accountable regarding its own conduct.

The department should learn from this incident and create a better procedure for the future — one in which it moves forward with transparency as a fundamental value.