Police Review Commission discusses body-worn cameras, deployment during protests

The Berkeley Police Review Commission, or PRC, met Wednesday night to discuss a recent police-worn body cameras initiative as well as the police response to the December 2014 Black Lives Matter protest.

During the meeting, the commission reiterated its stance on several remaining unresolved issues between the PRC and Berkeley Police Department on the policy governing the use of the body-worn cameras — issues that are preventing that policy from being finalized.

The discrepancies between the commission and the department include a PRC recommendation that would require BPD officers to file a report before viewing a recording in any use-of-force situations, as well as BPD’s proposal to allow officers to use personal recording devices — such as iPhones — in situations where a body-worn camera is not available or not working.

Some members of the commission expressed a strong desire to hold firm to the commission’s stances on these issues.

I cannot live with signing my name to something that says something less than what we voted,” said Alison Bernstein, a member of the PRC, at the meeting.

The commission eventually agreed to conduct further negotiations with BPD to reach “a better understanding” between itself and the commission.

The year-long pilot program will equip 20 BPD patrol officers with body-worn cameras and will cost the city of Berkeley roughly $45,000 in equipment and storage. In June, Berkeley City Council agreed to fund the pilot program, which was partly a response to allegations of misconduct regarding the December 2014 Black Lives Matter protests.

“Body cameras are valuable tools that will give us information,” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “Just like we need a surveillance policy, we need a clear policy about access to body-camera videos.”

The commission also discussed investigative findings and questions into BPD’s response to the December 2014 Black Lives Matter protests that took place in Berkeley. During a PRC investigation subcommittee session in May, the commission outlined a series of questions and concerns addressing BPD’s deployment of officers and mitigation of the property damage accrued during the protests.

According to Bernstein, BPD has yet to fully answer questions regarding its deployment of less-than-lethal munitions and special response teams during the protests.

“The answers to these questions should not be simply academic,” said PRC Commissioner George Lippman at the meeting. “They’re live issues and they’re very important.”

According to Worthington, governance of surveillance equipment used by police and other law enforcement officials has ensured transparency in other areas, such as Santa Clara County.

“Right now, there really isn’t a community policy on surveillance control,” Worthington said. “When I heard that there was a comprehensive policy adopted by other cities … it seemed rational for us to have one.”

The next PRC regular meeting will be held Sept. 14.

Contact Jessie Qian at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jessieq96.