Berkeley may soon have a new police accountability commission

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A push toward broader control of police accountability is coming to Berkeley.

Two competing proposals to modify current police accountability measures are in the works to be placed on the November 2018 ballot, focusing on regulating police policies and practices.

The first proposal — an initiative measure to create an elected Police Accountability Board — was put forth by the Campaign for Police Accountability and is now in the process of petition, according to Russ Tilleman, a member of the campaign.

The second proposal was formed by the Berkeley Coalition for Police Accountability, or BCPA.  This proposal is focused on forming a new coalition called the “Police Commission,” which is based off of the original Police Review Commission, or PRC, but would wield more responsibilities and authority over the police.

“Something really needs to be done,” Tilleman said. “The problems in Berkeley. … (Police) have been beating up protestors at politically fueled events. That’s a crime against the democratic process; it gets into the realm of the police illegally interfering with the elections. This (measure) has ramifications far beyond Berkeley. … After this, it will be easier for cities to do the same.”

If passed, these new groups would replace or supersede the current PRC. The PRC was formed to ensure the Berkeley Police Department acts in accordance to community standards, and it has the power to make policy recommendations and hear individual complaints, according to the city of Berkeley’s website.

The newly proposed commissions focus on gaining supervision and control of BPD. Their proposals include having the power to oversee the removal or hiring of law enforcement officers and employees, as well as investigating into the affairs of the police department.

According to Tilleman, the plan for the Police Accountability Board — the first proposed commission —  is to gain more community control over the police.

“Right now the police do pretty much whatever they want now,” Tilleman said. “The new group will have the authority to solve pretty much any problem that comes along, the way it’s written. … They are empowered to be in full control, in hiring and firing, in weaponry, the uniforms, the equipment, everything.”

The initiative measure of the Police Accountability Board stated that the purpose of controlling BPD included “ensuring safe and effective policing for everyone in Berkeley regardless of race, gender, orientation, religion, disability, country or origin or economic status” as well as “protecting the community from excessive use of force by police; and holding police accountable for their actions.

Whereas the Police Commission — the second proposed commission — would have an appointed board, the Police Accountability Board would have nine elected commissioners after its first two years.

Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who recommended reform of police accountability to the City Council in 2017, said he strongly supported an amendment.

“A diverse coalition convened by the NAACP has worked for several years to increase public understanding of needed reforms,” Worthington said in an email. “We should respect their efforts and work together for one Charter Amendment proposal. The draft they have discussed is more powerful, and practical as well as being built on widespread participation for several years.”

Sahana Matthews, chair of the PRC and part of the group forming the BCPA, said she believed PRC’s powers and regulations were “out of date and need to be reformed” and that many members of the PRC are supporting the new coalition for the Police Commission.

Police Review Commissioner Andrea Prichett said she believed that there have been more police officer misconduct incidents, but because the current process is compromised, less citizens come forward with their complaints against BPD.

“We would like to have effective boards of inquiry or powers of enforcement,” Prichett said. “We would like to have something in the city as a deterrent for police misconduct.”

The BCPA held a meeting Thursday night, at which the group explained its proposal for the Police Commission and assigned subcommittees, according to Matthews. The group also negotiated with Tilleman at the meeting about his “conflicting” proposal, and will meet once again Tuesday night.

Mary Kelly Ford covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MaryKellyFord1.