Police Review Commission discusses Center for Policing Equity report, surveillance authority

Katherine Qiu/Staff

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The Berkeley Police Review Commission convened Wednesday night at the South Berkeley Senior Center for a regular meeting, with a stacked agenda.

The evening included discussion over the recently released draft report from the Center for Policing Equity, a message of sympathy to the family of late BPD officer Alan Roberds and a draft approval of the Surveillance and Community Safety Ordinance.

“We have a couple big ticket items tonight — I think this is the way it’s going to be for the next couple of months, we have a lot to talk about,” said Commission Chair George Lippman.

A copy of the 50-page draft interim report from the Center for Policing Equity, that BPD volunteered to participate in as part of CPE’s National Justice Database, was attached to the meeting’s agenda. The report’s results were released at the order of Berkeley City Council on June 27 and are now published on the City of Berkeley website.

According to the report, between 2012 and 2015, Berkeley, which has a 55 percent white population and 10 percent Black population, saw roughly the same amount of traffic stops for both groups — “a Black driver is nearly six times more likely to be pulled over than a white driver.”

Similar disparities were also evident with respect to white and Hispanic drivers.

The council also discussed a draft of the Surveillance and Community Safety Ordinance, intended to provide information on the proposed purposes of surveillance technology, including a controversial license plate reader.

The commission passed a change in name of the ordinance to the Surveillance Technology Use and Community Safety Ordinance, for clarity.

Under the ordinance, City Council “shall” release, no later than January 15 of each year, all surveillance reports submitted. In addition, PRC approved the deletion of enforcement language in the ordinance that made a violator guilty of a misdemeanor “punished by a fine not exceeding $1,000.”

At PRC’s last meeting July 14, the commission voted to open an investigation into the actions of BPD during a special City Council meeting held about a month prior on June 20.

At the special meeting, which drew an unusually large City Council crowd, community members stormed the front of the room in protest, angered by the council’s ultimate decision to continue the city’s participation in Urban Shield. After the meeting, police and constituents clashed outside, with one attendee struck on the head by a police baton.

As part of the investigation a subcommittee was created, including commissioners Andrea Prichett, Elliot Halpern and Terry Roberts. The subcommittee has yet to present on their findings.

BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood, in attendance at Wednesday’s PRC meeting, updated the commission on budget, staffing and training.

According to Greenwood, BPD is “struggling with a number of vacancies on patrol and detective teams,” exacerbated by five officers currently out on injury, but will be taking three new officers into field training after they graduate from the Contra Costa Police Academy this Friday.

Greenwood’s update adds evidence to the issue of increasing overtime hours for officers in Berkeley, caused in part by short staffing and a lack of new recruits, as previously reported by The Daily Californian.

Audibly choked up, Greenwood also spoke at the meeting on the death of former officer Alan Roberds, whose July 15 death is being investigated as an apparent suicide.

In reaction, Greenwood said BPD is prioritizing mental health counseling for their officers — “we are shifting some things around to focus resources on this in light of what has happened.”

Later in the meeting PRC agreed on messages of sympathy for Roberds’ family. 

“The officer’s death is on a lot of our minds,” Lippman said.

Audrey McNamara is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @McNamaraAud.