Police Review Commission frustrated over diminished role in 2 Berkeley City Council motions

Yiran Chen/Staff

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Berkeley’s Police Review Commission, or PRC, convened Wednesday and passed a motion to send a letter to Berkeley City Council, which says that the council diminished the role of PRC by passing two laws without consulting the commission.

The letter addresses two decisions made by the council since August. The first is an urgency ordinance that allows the city manager to establish perimeters and prohibit hazardous items within specific boundaries to preserve public safety and property. The second council decision allows police officers to use pepper spray in crowd control situations, reversing a 20-year-old ban on the chemical agent. The council didn’t consult PRC about either of these decisions, although both of them involve the Berkeley Police Department.

“I find it odd that there’s all this talk of expanding the powers of the PRC, and what’s really happening is that we’re being shrunk in our ability to move — to do our mandate,” said George Lippman, chair of PRC.

PRC Commissioner Terry Roberts, however, said he felt that the ordinances were necessary measures because there were “extenuating circumstances.” Although PRC’s letter will critique the council’s process in passing the two measures, Roberts suggested that critiquing the ordinances themselves would be a more constructive approach for the commission.

“I think the process necessarily isn’t a good one for the long term, but in order to deal with the stuff at hand, some kind of emergency regulations needed to be enacted,” Roberts said. “On the other hand, I think that we need to give input to the ordinances and, to me, it would be more constructive to look at what’s there.”

PRC also discussed at the meeting the city manager’s announcement to ban masks in certain parks on two separate dates. Commissioners decided to contest the constitutionality of this ban in the letter.

After a few alterations, PRC passed the proposal to send the letter 6-1, with all commissioners present at the meeting in favor except for Roberts. Two commissioners, George Perezvelez and Ari Yampolsky, were absent from the meeting.

In the commission’s draft of the letter, it said that although City Council “did take extensive public testimony” on the urgency ordinance and the pepper spray motion, the council approved both proposals “despite overwhelming opposition” from the community.

“If we’re supposed to be PRC, why are we here if we have no power?” said Gwen Allamby, vice chair of PRC. “And this is going to happen again. This is not the first time. I feel like this (is) setting the precedent. That’s, in my opinion, pretty dangerous.”

At the meeting, PRC also continued its discussion on the ongoing review of General Order W-1, which concerns citizens’ rights to observe, photograph or record officers on duty. The commission passed a proposed rewording of part of the policy and will continue reviewing the policy at its next meeting.

Contact Cade Johnson at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @cadejohnson98.