Commissioners discuss recommendations on police action after review of December Berkeley protests

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At a Wednesday meeting, members of Berkeley’s Police Review Commission, or PRC, discussed recommendations from police on modifying action during protests, continuing the investigation into police response to the December Black Lives Matter protests.

Commissioners approved and suggested amendments to Berkeley Police Department’s recommended changes, which were outlined in BPD’s internal report that was presented to the PRC at its previous meeting June 10. The recommendations included the provisions of better equipment, communication and training.

PRC chair Alison Bernstein said the entire commission and police department reached a consensus on wanting to see a shift toward crowd management and away from crowd control.

Police recommended de-escalation from crowd control — which “may require arrests and/or the dispersal of the crowd” — to crowd management, which emphasizes communication with and monitoring of the crowd to maintain lawful activities, according to the report.

But the commissioners said it was more important for police to back away from crowd control and employ crowd-management techniques in the first place. Commissioners did not, however, finalize the language of the amendment and decided to table the discussion to the next meeting.

The use of social media, according to Lt. Dave Frankel, would be useful for communicating with leaders of the protests rather than simply remaining in the background. It could also be used to put out warnings about street closures and to address misinformation about criminal behavior, he said.

“The goal of communication is not only negotiation just to get what we want, which is peaceful demonstration — there also has to be listening,” said commissioner George Lippman at the meeting. “It’s a long conversation about what the relationship (between) the police and crowd should be.”

Commissioners suggested contacting the regional communications system about improving radio communication between BPD and other aiding agencies, which did not happen during the protests because officers were not trained to do so and because different channels of the radio system were encrypted, Frankel said at the meeting.

The radio system did not record police communication during the protests, which has posed a significant challenge to the investigation, Bernstein said.

According to Bernstein, the PRC will try to consult with the police to come to an agreement on the changes, but because of time constraints, it could also submit its suggestions directly to Berkeley City Council.

“The benefit of consultation is that PRC members and BPD can each share the insight and knowledge and, in that way, can come to a good resolution,” Bernstein said. “Ultimately, it would be up to the council to decide what it wants to see happen.”

PRC commissioners will continue to discuss BPD’s recommendations at the next meeting, scheduled for July 8. They will move on to propose changes to the general order and to edit a narrative of what transpired Dec. 6, which is being compiled outside the meetings.

Bernstein said that without the filing of a complaint from the public, the PRC has no power to conduct an investigation into a specific officer.

“PRC should think about why many people complain in public and on record about abuse they perceived at the hand of the police, but very few complaints were filed at PRC,” she said.

Contact Tianyi Dong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @dong_tianyi.