Berkeley’s Police Review Commission passes recommendation for police interaction with protesters

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At its Wednesday meeting, Berkeley’s Police Review Commission passed a policy recommendation that would curtail officer tactics for dealing with protests as part of the PRC’s review of police policy surrounding the December Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

The commission passed an amended version of a policy recommendation put forward by commissioner George Lippman, which emphasizes peaceful engagement with protesters as a starting point, challenging Berkeley Police Department’s recommendation to seek greater opportunities for de-escalation. Commissioners also initiated several separate policy reviews prompted by complaints from the public.

Lippman’s proposal was meant to replace BPD’s eighth of 32 recommendations, which stated that officers should recognize and seize opportunities to switch from more confrontational “crowd control” tactics to greater diplomacy in the form of “crowd management” tactics.

Other commissioners, however, had an issue with Lippman’s strong language and the significant limitation of actions afforded to officers during demonstrations. PRC chair Alison Bernstein said she wasn’t comfortable with phrases such as “must not” that were used in the recommendations, stating that it would be more appropriate to tell officers that they “should not” do something.

“I’m struggling with the idea that we can say to any city employee, let alone the police, ‘People are throwing stuff at you, but you can’t do anything,’ ” Bernstein said at the meeting.

The original proposal would have removed officers from their role as the primary point of contact between demonstrators and the city and would instruct officers to treat all protesters not known to be committing illegal acts as bystanders rather than potential threats. Lippman intended to create a new group led by city officials that would coordinate directly with protesters and use police as supporting force, arguing against claims that it would increase city bureaucracy.

“The vision I’m trying to present is a different vision,” Lippman said at the meeting. “Wouldn’t that be better than what happened in December?”

The creation of a new group to coordinate with protesters, the labeling of all noncriminal protesters as bystanders and the further restriction of tactics such as kettling and gassing were removed from the proposal. The commission then passed the amended version unanimously.

Commissioners also chose to look into issues presented by Carol Denney, who said officers were not properly trained on new electronic-cigarette laws, and by Tesfaye Tsadik, who alleged that officers were misidentifying people who identify as black — such as himself — as “other” in order to manipulate police detention statistics.

The PRC will meet again Wednesday to go over key factual findings of the December protests.

Contact Trevor Greenan at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @trevor_greenan.