Berkeley police no longer able to post nonviolent crime arrestee photos on social media, City Council decides

Lorenzo dela Cruz /Staff

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Berkeley Police Department can no longer post photos of people arrested for nonviolent crimes at “First Amendment events” on social media, Berkeley City Council decided at its regular Tuesday meeting.

The issue traces back to an Aug. 5 rally when BPD released the mugshots, names and cities of residence of arrested protesters before they had been charged with any crimes. Arrests are a part of the public record, but arrestees argued during the meeting that posting their information exposed them to potential threats.

Many of those arrested attended the City Council meeting Tuesday.

“I was tried in the court of public opinion, not a court of law,” said Freddy Martinez, a Berkeley resident whose information was tweeted out by BPD, at the meeting.

Those arrested, along with other Berkeley residents, expressed their support for a motion put forth by Councilmembers Cheryl Davila and Kate Harrison and Mayor Jesse Arreguín that would prevent BPD from releasing arrestees’ information on social media unless there was an imminent threat to public safety.

This motion ultimately failed, replaced by Councilmember Sophie Hahn’s motion to restrict the posting of information only of nonviolent offenders at “First Amendment events,” such as protests. Davila, Harrison and Councilmember Ben Bartlett voted no on Hahn’s motion, but the rest of the council approved it.

Council members in favor of Hahn’s motion said the proposal was in the interest of public safety. A provision was included denouncing violence in the community.

“If we say under First Amendment activities, we are allowing the police to decide what First Amendment activities are,” Harrison said at the meeting. “We don’t want to deter free speech;  we want to deter violence.”

The specifications for posting nonviolent crimes and First Amendment events drew criticism from the crowd. Attorney EmilyRose Johns, who was present at the meeting, expressed concern that protecting those accused of nonviolent crimes would lead the police to allege violence in order to justify posting information. Police Review Commissioner Andrea Prichett questioned whether the city should allow police to interpret political events for the community.

Prichett also noted the released emails between BPD officers, in which they said the motivation for posting photos was to “create a counter-narrative” surrounding free speech clashes in Berkeley. The emails also showed them tracking their likes and retweets. According to Prichett, she had requested these same emails and been denied, while they were released to police accountability group Lucy Parsons Labs.

“In this country, there is a corrosion of the idea that people are innocent until proven guilty,” Bartlett said at the meeting.

Also at the meeting, the City Council extended the operation of the Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter through June 2019.

Madeleine Gregory covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @mgregory_dc.