Berkeley Police Review Commission talks surveillance, spit hoods, budget

Sam Albillo/Staff

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The Berkeley Police Review Commission, or PRC, gathered Wednesday for its regular meeting to discuss surveillance use policies, budget summaries and the use of spit hoods by the Berkeley Police Department, among other items.

The meeting began with a review of surveillance use policies involving body cameras, automatic license plate readers and GPS trackers. These technologies are intended for use in parking enforcement, theft and investigations, according to BPD. According to Chief Andrew Greenwood, the cost of implementing this equipment would be $250,000 for the first five years.

There was continued discussion about whether the data collected in these operations would be accessible to the public. Commission chair George Perezvelez was concerned about the “accessibility and transparency” of the data gathered. According to Greenwood, an example of public access would be in the scenario of a car theft, in which case the car’s registered owner could request GPS data on the car if available.

Commissioner Terry Roberts, along with Perezvelez, also questioned how the specific wording of the ordinance could affect who has access to the collected data. Commissioner Kitty Callavita and Perezvelez voiced concern that the policy did not state clearly enough whether or not the data could be shared with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, saying the wording may not be “explicit or determinative” enough to prevent this.

In discussing the 2019 budget, commissioners noted that BPD usually goes over its allocated budget because of personnel costs, such as salaries and benefits. In 2018, though, BPD was understaffed, and it consequently finished the year under budget on account of having fewer staff to support, according to Greenwood.

The commission then moved on to the discussion of spit hoods, which officers put on some individuals to prevent them from spitting on or biting others. According to BPD, the hoods are intended to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

The Berkeley/Albany Mental Health Commission submitted a recommendation June 11 to replace the use of spit hoods with other methods of preventing disease transmission, given that the experience of being hooded could be “both traumatizing and devastating” to those with mental illnesses, according to the recommendation. The city Mental Health Division has no position on the matter, according to PRC Officer Katherine Lee.

Former commissioner Andrea Prichett expressed concern over the use of spit hoods by the police.

“When you’re responding to a mental health crisis, is that a perpetrator or a patient? Because patient-centered care means that you put at the center of your world whatever is best for the patient,” Prichett said during the meeting. “That’s why I’m baffled. I don’t know why we would put people through that terror.”

Contact Sasha Langholz at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LangholzSasha‏.

A previous version of this article misspelled Andrea Prichett’s name.