Berkeley’s Police Review Commission talks recommendations on police use of gas, protest tactics

Alvin Wu/File

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At a Wednesday meeting, Berkeley’s Police Review Commission discussed recommended revisions to policies — including those outlining the use of CS gas and interactions with protesters — as part of a review of police conduct during December’s Black Lives Matter protests in Berkeley.

The commission adopted one recommendation as written by Berkeley Police Department: that a number of officers move with crowds so that “violent elements in the crowd will see a continuous police presence.” In agreeing, the commission referred to two of its own previously adopted recommendations. It has passed several policy recommendations since June, which will be presented to Berkeley City Council.

“We don’t want to use force against nonviolent people,” said Capt. Dave Frankel at the meeting. But he said that if a crowd contains both nonviolent and violent individuals, it “increases the chance” of officers using force.

Additionally, commissioner Bulmaro Vicente made a motion at the meeting to prohibit the use of CS gas — a kind of tear gas — for crowd control and crowd management situations. Commission chair Alison Bernstein said at the meeting that law enforcement did not follow protocol regarding the use of force Dec. 6 and that CS gas is “not something the department can use responsibly.”

Frankel called CS gas an “industry-standard tool” and said at the meeting that it is “not the button you want to push, but it’s there, at least, if you have to.”

Though the motion to ban CS gas failed, the commission voted unanimously to recommend that BPD review its policies with the intention of putting “substantial constraints” on its use of gas in crowd control and crowd management situations.

“(CS gas is) miserable, and it’s nondiscriminatory,” said commissioner Ann Rogers at the meeting. “Yet sometimes it’s the only thing that will work, so I have mixed feelings.”

The commission tabled a vote on a recommendation from BPD to permit the use of helicopters in instances of significant civil unrest, citing the need for a more informed discussion of prior helicopter restrictions. Additionally, commissioners said the recommendation did not specify whether BPD wanted to use reconnaissance information from the helicopters or wanted to operate the helicopters themselves.

At the meeting, several commissioners raised concerns about the use of an armored police vehicle during a search for an armed robbery suspect Monday morning.

“When there’s a photo of an armored vehicle … we’re going to want to know what’s the story,” Bernstein said at the meeting.

BPD Chief Michael Meehan said at the meeting that he will be briefed on the investigation Friday, after which time he will be able to address commissioners’ questions, including which police department owned the armored vehicle.

The commission will meet again Aug. 12 to continue voting on BPD recommendations and to address the content and language of its report on the December protests.

Contact Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ayoonhendricks.