Police Review Commission report on December 2014 protests to go before City Council

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The city’s Police Review Commission will present its report of Berkeley Police Department’s response to the first night of the December 2014 protests to City Council at its meeting Tuesday.

The report asks that BPD establish greater regulations on tear gas, projectiles, baton use, interactions with members of the media, the accountability of mutual aid responders and reporting the use of force. It also contains the PRC’s review of the 32 recommendations that BPD produced in its own report of police action during the protests, providing alternatives to most of BPD’s recommendations and two new recommendations developed by the PRC.

At the same City Council meeting, BPD Chief Michael Meehan will present a recommendation that the council direct BPD and the commission to jointly develop revisions to BPD’s policies and procedures regarding protests.

Meehan’s recommendation states that the PRC and BPD share “the universal desire to minimize conflict and ensure peaceful and safe first amendment protests in Berkeley.”

When we look at the chief’s response, he’s saying there’s a lot we all agree on, and I think that’s a really good place to begin,” said PRC chair Alison Bernstein. “If the council says yes (to Meehan’s recommendation) … then we’ll be there.”

BPD officers were present at every meeting at which the PRC discussed the December protests, according to Commissioner George Lippman. Lippman said the officers provided valuable insight into police practice as well as the city’s general orders and the rationale behind them.

“Without detracting from the fact that there were serious problems with the department’s response (to the protests), I certainly learned a lot from the department’s willingness to be forthcoming,” Bernstein said. “We saw a minimum of defensiveness and a real willingness to be open and talk through some of the problems we saw.”

The PRC’s report also contains a minority report in which Commissioners Lippman, Michael Sherman and Ben Bartlett recommend the prohibition of tear gas in crowd control and crowd management, and that the PRC be consulted before BPD adopts new surveillance tools.

In addition, the minority report includes a recommendation by Lippman and Bartlett that BPD take “direct supervisory responsibility” for all mutual aid units deployed, in accordance with a 1992 BPD policy. Lippman originally proposed this recommendation at the PRC’s Oct. 8 meeting, but commissioners questioned its legality under state law.

On Feb. 10, City Council directed the PRC to investigate police action during the protests. Despite clearing its meeting agendas of everything except emergency items and subcommittee reports, and holding several special meetings, the PRC was unable to meet the Aug. 10 deadline for its report and instead submitted the report by Oct. 29.

It was a big job — it was something we had to get organized for,” Lippman said of the PRC’s eight-month investigation, in which the commission reviewed public comment, dozens of documents supplied by BPD and about 400 video clips of the protests.

“I hope that the council will have an opportunity through our report to have a clear understanding of what transpired, how decisions were made … and how we can go about improving police response to the political demonstrations,” Bernstein said.

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

A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Police Review Commission Chair Alison Bernstein as saying that she hopes “the council will have an opportunity through our report to have a clear understanding of what transpired, how decisions were made … and how we can go about improving police response to the political demon.” In fact, Bernstein was referring to political demonstrations.