Sustained allegations such as discrimination or excessive force against the Berkeley Police Department filed with Berkeley Police Review Commission are at a five-year low, according to the commission’s 2015 annual report.
The annual report detailed the commission’s work last year and shows that it reviewed 23 complaints, including 51 different allegations regarding police actions, as well as four policy reviews. Of those 23 complaints from 2015, 14 were closed without a hearing and only one allegation — of discourtesy — was sustained, meaning that the act listed in the complaint both occurred and was unjustified.
According to the report, however, the allegation which was sustained by the PRC was appealed by a BPD officer, and will be heard through an independent reexamination in 2016.
The PRC is required to inform the Internal Affairs Bureau of the police department whenever they receive a complaint, after which the Bureau conducts an investigation as well. The Internal Affairs Bureau also independently receives and investigates complaints — last year, a PRC handout stated that it received 30 external complaints and sustained six.
“There is nothing inherently wrong about people choosing to go to the department rather than the PRC,” said Alison Bernstein, 2015 PRC chair. “But if that number is a reflection of people not having faith in our process or not knowing about our process than that is something we need to address.”
Nine of the 23 complaints sent to the commission were lodged by Berkeley residents who are Black, which Berkeley Copwatch member Andrea Prichett said was in line with the “racial profiling problem” in Berkeley. According to the report, in four out of the last five years Black people have filed the most complaints with the PRC.
“You have African Americans year after year filing close to half of complaints against the police to the PRC yet they only make up eight percent of Berkeley’s population,” said James Chanin, a Berkeley civil rights lawyer. “Someone needs to ask why that is.”
Besides reviewing citizen complaints, the PRC creates policy recommendations for BPD, with commissioners talking with BPD representatives and addressing policy issues “one way or the other,” Bernstein said.
In 2015, the commission and BPD initiated a review of police actions during the December 2014 Black Lives Matter protests at the request of Berkeley City Council. Since then, a PRC subcommittee and BPD officials have met regularly to redraft the department’s general orders regarding crowd control. In January, City Council accepted a PRC report on BPD’s response to the protest. Bernstein said that the PRC subcommittee will report to the full commission this fall.
“It is over one and a half years later and a protest could happen today and we would have no agreement on how to handle crowds,” Chanin said. “It is completely unacceptable and makes people feel like their First Amendment rights are subject to the excessive force and misbehavior that colored the December 2014 protests.”
Also outlined in the report, the commission amended a BPD policy regarding how officers report suspicious activity and terrorist threats to other law enforcement institutions which, according to PRC member George Lippman, could infringe on citizens’ First Amendment rights. Originally, officers could report suspicious activity based off of a citizen’s beliefs or association with political groups, but PRC’s amendment emphasized federal regulations against inappropriate reporting of suspicious activity to decrease ethnic, political or religious bias.
BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel could not be reached for comment on the report.