City Police Review Commission discusses right to watch, police Board of Inquiry

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The Berkeley Police Review Commission met Wednesday evening to discuss, among other items, the process for police disciplinary action and the role of the body’s Board of Inquiry in this process.

The discussion centered on the efficacy of the Board of Inquiry — an advisory party to Berkeley Police Department’s disciplinary board — in its contribution to any disciplinary actions taken by BPD. Several commissioners were concerned that the police did not take the decisions of the Board of Inquiry into account.

The Board of Inquiry reviews cases and complaints about officers and is composed of members of the Police Review Commission. Often, it conducts reviews too late for their consideration by the police chief’s decision, according to BPD Chief Michael Meehan.

“To have a Board of Inquiry whose decisions are not considered because we don’t have the ability to get our decision in within the time allotted is completely pointless,” said Ayelet Waldman, a PRC commissioner.

The main issue at hand, according to some commissioners, is whether the chief’s decision should be delayed until the board delivers its report. According to PRC Officer Katherine Lee, there are so many moving parts in the board that it is difficult to meet before a deadline.

Several commissioners suggested PRC examine the role of the Board of Inquiry and attempt to either make it more effective or, if that cannot be done, dissolve it.

“I demand accountability from the police department,” Waldman said. “To participate in a system that appeases rather than being effective, that gives the illusion of justice when no justice is being attained, then that is worse than not participating.”

Commission chair George Perezvelez suggested the PRC ask the city attorney and police association whether the Board of Inquiry can be made a necessary part of the police disciplinary process, effectively meaning that the police chief would be required to wait for board decisions prior to making any disciplinary decision.

A citizen’s right to watch, film or observe police interactions with members of the public was also discussed at length. Several members of Berkeley Copwatch — a group of Berkeley citizens dedicated to monitoring police and protecting citizens — were present to express the importance of free observation and their concerns with a new iteration of a general order regarding the right to watch.

The revised general order contains a new clause that protects the confidentiality of the discussion and requires the observer obtain permission from the officer and citizen involved to record a conversation. Andrea Prichett, a member of Berkeley Copwatch, found this problematic because it gives the officer power to deny a citizen the right to watch.

“What happens in public is public,” Prichett said. “Using that cloak of protecting that person’s privacy is cutting them off from citizen and public accountability.”

PRC will continue to discuss the role of the Board of Inquiry and the implementation of board recommendations to BPD at its next meeting March 9.

Anderson Lanham is the lead crime & courts reporter. Contact her at [email protected].