Police Review Commission discusses police mutual aid, hears crime report

Lorenz Angelo Gonzales/File

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At its first meeting since July, the city’s Police Review Commission convened Wednesday night to deliberate the status of Berkeley Police Department’s mutual aid agreements and hear a report from the chief of police on crime data and department staffing.

After hearing from Berkeley police officers and citizen complaints, the commission recommended that City Council continue mutual aid agreements, including one with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, which is funded partly by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Specifically, the commission recommended with one abstention that City Council continue BPD’s relationship with NCRIC for the following year. To address certain community concerns surrounding BPD’s use of the information systems, the commission also recommended a review process to ensure the First Amendment rights of Berkeley citizens are protected.

Last year, Berkeley City Council approved a resolution allowing BPD to continue participating with NCRIC, a security nexus that disseminates information to localities about potential threats and public safety issues.

“The system allows the department to receive data, including suspicious activity reports, so we can take preventative action instead of reactionary action,” said BPD Lt. Randy Files at the meeting.

Additionally, the police department’s partnership with NCRIC provides training programs, such as learning how to detect physiological stresses to prevent dangerous situations, which aids in officer safety and development, Files said.

“Trends happening across the state and the nation find their way back to Berkeley real quick,” Files said. “We get emerging trends in narcotics, thefts, and other crimes that are not predicated around a narrow, myopic scope of terrorism.”

But George Lippman, vice chair of the Peace and Justice Commission who spoke during public comment, proposed that the PRC submit a recommendation to City Council to suspend BPD’s submission of suspicious activity reports to NCRIC.

Lippman said these suspicious activity reports contain information that is “protected speech” and impermissible according to federal guidelines unless directly related to criminal conduct.

Concerns over continuing the mutual aid agreement with NCRIC were also voiced by PRC Chair Michael Sherman, who insisted that a review process be formed to gauge whether safeguards are in place to protect civil liberties.

Aside from considering the future of mutual aid agreements, the commission also heard BPD Chief Michael Meehan deliver the midyear crime report, which showed crime overall has decreased. According to the report, crime in Berkeley for the first six months of this year declined by 12.7 percent, compared to the first six months of 2013.

Meehan also reported the status of new hires. Of the 176 new officers authorized, 167 were sworn, and two academies are starting with police training scheduled to begin sometime in November.

Bo Kovitz covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @beau_etc.

A previous version of this article stated that crime in the past six months declined 12.7 percent compared to the first six months of 2013. In fact, crime declined 12.7 percent in the first six months of this year compared to the first six months of last year.