Emails from within the Berkeley Police Department show that the department created a policy of publicizing the photos and personal information of arrested protesters, as first reported by Mic.
BPD received criticism for tweeting mugshots of arrested “antifa,” or anti-fascist, protesters after the Aug. 5 protest in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. The protest became violent, and by the end, BPD had arrested about 20 individuals.
The emails, retrieved through a public record act request by Berkeley Copwatch and Lucy Parsons Lab, said BPD’s protocol for tweeting the photos of protestors was to create a “counter-narrative” that would be friendly to police, according to Mic. City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said this statement has been taken out of context.
“We released public records, we don’t make secret arrests, we don’t have secret detentions. Disclosing who we have in custody is a part of the law. We have no idea of the political affiliations of anyone,” Chakko said.
Police Review Commissioner Andrea Prichett alleged that BPD posted these photos without the public’s safety in mind since the individuals were already in custody and BPD was not seeking information about them. Prichett also said BPD should prioritize safety for everyone, including those in custody.
She added that by publicizing these photos on social media, BPD endangered the safety of the individuals detained by releasing their information, something that goes against BPD’s policy.
“I feel that the BPD is under a lot of stress to control such protests in a way that protects these protesters but also promotes a broader sense of public safety. With that being said, I do not believe that posting these mugshots was necessarily a public safety issue,” said Sahana Matthews, campus senior and chair of the Police Review Commission.
But Chakko said the photos were just one of the ways the city aimed to “stop violence in Berkeley.” Chakko said the level of violence at protests was extreme, and the city tried a number of strategies to prevent it. He said a public forum was created and the city started to educate the public of the danger they could face if they joined violent activities.
The issue was brought up at Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting. City Council passed a motion by Councilmember Sophie Hahn that does not allow Berkeley employees to post the addresses, legal names and booking photos for individuals who were arrested for nonviolent offenses on social media.
“The National Lawyers Guild finds it very concerning that the police release info knowing full well that the release of information can lead to potential harassment — both online and in person,” said Emily Rose Johns, a member of the National Lawyers Guild, who also attended the City Council meeting.