Police Review Commission discusses staging practices, handling of complaints

Zach Ryan/Staff

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The Berkeley Police Review Commission met Wednesday night to discuss Berkeley Police Department’s staging practices during the December 2014 protests and changes to regulations for handling complaints against members of the police department.

The commission voted 7-1 to close residents’ policy complaint over BPD’s use of the 2100 block of McKinley Avenue as a staging area. The police staging area had garnered complaints over a lack of transparency and police behavior.

The commission looked at an updated draft of a BPD general order focused on staging site considerations for future situations. Staging sites are used to accommodate police personnel and resources, such as vehicles, during protests and other events that require a large police presence.

“The overarching themes going through … are really communication and outreach ahead,” said BPD Capt. Andrew Greenwood. BPD will be “highlighting communication through whatever means we can think of to make sure folks know what is going on.”

The general order includes considerations such as looking beyond McKinley Avenue, which is located near the police department, and more toward public sites as future staging sites. It also outlines a communication plan with the residents of staging areas.

Berkeley resident Robin McDonnell said during the meeting that she was unhappy with BPD’s lack of communication during the 2014 protests.

“We could not find anybody in the police department for five days to talk to us,” McDonnell said at the meeting.

One criticism that PRC chair George Perezvelez had was the lack of specific timelines in the plan to notify the community of police action. Commissioner Alison Bernstein added, however, that timelines that are too specific could have negative consequences.

“I think getting any more detailed, you will get yourself bogged down in something that’s unworkable,” Bernstein said.

On the other hand, Commissioner George Lippman said he believes that the police department is heading in the right direction by moving staging sites away from residential neighborhoods, but that it should continue to look for sites that affect fewer people.

“This should never happen on 2100 block of McKinley ever,” Lippman said. “They’ve suffered enough. … They’ve had enough, and don’t assume we’re going to use this space just because it’s convenient for the department.”

Additionally, the commission discussed previously recommended changes to the process for handling complaints against members of the police department. City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley agreed to implement all except one, regarding the standard of proof.

The commission had suggested to change the standard to “preponderance of the evidence,” but this change was not agreed upon by Ridley and the Berkeley Police Association. The PRC moved to investigate the reasoning behind the decision not to implement this recommendation.

Greenwood and the commissioners also discussed BPD’s failure to test a SART kit, colloquially known as a rape kit, for six years. Although Greenwood acknowledged the past failure, he said all SART kits are now tested.

Contact Alex Fang at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @alexfang_DC.