Berkeley’s Police Review Commission votes on greater oversight of mutual aid responders

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Members of Berkeley’s Police Review Commission clashed at a meeting Thursday over the legality of giving Berkeley Police Department greater oversight of mutual aid responders in crowd-management situations in light of the December protests.

State law enforcement procedures dictate that mutual aid responders, including the responders called in from surrounding law enforcement agencies to assist BPD during the December protests, follow the policies of their home agencies when deployed in other jurisdictions. But Commissioner George Lippman argued that under a 1992 BPD policy, the PRC should be able to recommend that BPD have greater oversight of these responders in crowd-management situations.

The conduct of responders called to assist BPD with crowd management during the protests was a “major concern” for the community and the commission, according to PRC chair Alison Bernstein. Bernstein noted during the meeting that community members complained that mutual aid responders used measures of force, such as projectiles, in conflict with “community values.”

“My opinion, and the opinion of most residents, is that something went wrong,” Bernstein said at the meeting. “I feel curtailed by the law.”

BPD Sgt. Dan Montgomery said at the meeting, however, that the structure of mutual aid is “pretty well laid out,” and BPD Capt. Dave Frankel said he didn’t believe a BPD squad as a whole would have acted very differently in the situations the mutual aid responders faced during the protests.

“We felt like we had terrific support through the agencies that came,” Montgomery said at the meeting.

Bernstein said at the meeting that the commission would not be able to to overcome state law, but Lippman disagreed with her legal interpretation and suggested the commission seek outside consultation.

The PRC voted to recommend to Berkeley City Council that BPD develop specific strategies and procedures to communicate its values to responders in crowd-management situations, under the assumption that the council could not legally mandate that BPD have greater oversight of mutual aid responders.

“I hope that what (the recommendation) does is highlight for our command staff how important it is to try and balance the desire of the community to see law enforcement engage with the community in a way that’s consistent with Berkeley values,” Bernstein said.

Lippman was the only commissioner to vote against the mutual aid recommendation.

In addition to voting for the recommendation to City Council regarding mutual aid, the PRC reviewed BPD’s recommendations after the December protests that the department consider a media-credentialing system and develop a press safety training.

Acknowledging that this is a highly complex issue, the PRC recommended the formation of a subcommittee to allow for full discussion on and formulation of a policy.

These recommendations are part of the commission’s ongoing investigation into the December protests, as mandated by City Council. The report was initially due Aug. 10, but the commission, which has been meeting weekly since June, did not complete the report on time and now expects to complete it by Oct. 29.

The commission will reconvene Wednesday and expects its report to go before City Council at the council’s Dec. 1 meeting.

Sally Littlefield is the lead crime and courts reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @slittlefield3.