Berkeley’s Police Review Commission needs reform to effectively hold police accountable

CITY AFFAIRS: The process of reporting police misconduct in Berkeley is convoluted and bureaucratic. This needs to change

Emily Bi/Staff

The Police Review Commission, or PRC, recently released a report that found that the Berkeley Police Department committed no misconduct in 2017. But rather than showing progress or concrete improvement in the police department, all this report reveals is how deeply flawed the commission’s reporting process is.

The process of filing a complaint with the commission calls for both a written and oral statement from the complainant — but the police officer whose conduct has been called into question is not required to do the same. And a copy of the complaint is sent to BPD, even though the individual who reported the alleged misconduct is not given any documentation of the police department’s response.

This convoluted, unethical process does little to ensure that Berkeley residents feel protected or comfortable when reporting instances of police misconduct. Instead, it is demanding and unwelcoming, skewed in support of the very institution it is meant to reform. And citizen complaints are very rarely upheld — complainants must endure a complex and strenuous process, only to likely have their complaint dismissed.

In the city of Berkeley, residents also have a small window — just 90 days — during which they can file a complaint. And Berkeley police officers under investigation can only be disciplined within 120 days after an incident allegedly occurred. In every other city in California, officers can be disciplined up to 365 days after a reported incident of misconduct.

This reporting process — one that should be crucial to holding Berkeley police officers accountable — is undoubtedly in need of serious reform. Residents should be encouraged to report possible instances of police misconduct, rather than discouraged by bureaucracy and outrageous time frames. But these failures go beyond the process of filing complaints with the PRC.

The commission is in and of itself toothless and unproductive — it takes years to make concrete decisions and has no ability to enact real change when it finally does come to a consensus on an issue. As it stands, only two of the PRC’s nine members are people of color. This is an alarming ratio in a commission intended to hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct that has historically been directed toward minority communities. The commission can make recommendations regarding BPD’s practices to city officials, but these officials are not required to approve these proposals. And City Council has, in the recent past, made significant decisions regarding the police department without consulting the PRC — such as its decision to reverse a 20-year-old ban on the use of pepper spray for crowd control.

No police department is without its own set of problems. Oversight is crucial to ensuring that police officers are serving their community honestly and ethically. The city of Berkeley desperately needs an independent body of citizens capable of enacting tangible change.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.