Police Review Commission makes recommendations for Berkeley City Council about spit hood policy

Sunny Shen/Staff

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Discussion surrounding recommendations for Berkeley City Council and the city manager about policies regarding police use of spit hoods dominated Wednesday night’s regular Police Review Commission, or PRC, meeting.

The PRC began the meeting by unanimously voting to add an additional public comment section in the middle of the meeting, before the discussion of agenda item 9a: the consideration and approval of Lexipol Policy No. 302 regarding handcuffing and restraints, and the communication of the PRC’s recommendation on spit hood use policy to City Council.

After a report from Berkeley Police Department Chief Andrew Greenwood on department recruitment and wildfire preparedness, the committee entered into discussion about item 9a. During this discussion, several commissioners expressed a desire for more data regarding the frequency and effects of the use of spit hoods — mesh hoods placed over a person’s head to keep them from spitting or biting.

“I feel uncomfortable deciding on this right now in the absence of data. … We asked last time if there was a ballpark estimate (of frequency of spit hood use), and we weren’t able to get one,” said Commissioner Kitty Calavita at the meeting. “Bottom line for me is, I just don’t feel ready to make a decision about this in the absence of information.”

Other suggestions for the recommendation to City Council included one from Commissioner Sahana Matthews, who brought up the possibility of having officers from the department’s Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT, be the ones responsible for administering spit hoods. CIT officers, she suggested, have a “better understanding and a better mindset” toward those to whom spit hoods would be applied.

Calavita also proposed adding language to the recommendation that suggests adding regulations to spit hood use in cases that the person it is being used on is pepper-sprayed or is a pre-adolescent child.

“I care about minimizing the harms of both sides. … Yes, a bite from a child could be infectious, but I also think the harm to the child would be greater,” Calavita said at the meeting. “I want to do a balance test here.”

Toward the end of the meeting, the PRC voted on a motion made by Commissioner Elisa Mikiten to approve the policy with five recommendations: that the policy should include a statement endorsing BPD’s commitment to intervention training, that spit hoods should be applied by CIT officers when practical, that the chief should propose data collection measures for the PRC’s consideration, that BPD should use other available restraining methods if possible, and that the use of spit hoods on pre-adolescent children should be prohibited.

During the meeting, the commission also reviewed and approved several Lexipol policies, including ones regarding missing persons, standards of conduct, subpoenas and court appearances, and air support.

Sabrina Dong is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Sabrina_Dong_.