A month ago, two children called UCPD to report that they were being photographed by a woman at a playground. They ended up in the back of a patrol car, one of them in handcuffs.
When UCPD responded to the children’s call, the situation escalated. The woman accused the two boys, who are both Black, of stealing her purse earlier that day, prompting UCPD to detain the two 11-year-olds.
UCPD has the right and obligation to inquire about and investigate any alleged criminal activity. What the department should not have the right to do is to use excessive force on two young boys who were not posing an immediate threat to the safety of the police officers or the woman. The children were not armed, were not violent and were not acting in any way that warranted the use of aggressive restraints — they were the ones who called UCPD to report suspicious activity in the first place.
When it comes to minors, it is especially problematic for police to use excessive force. And this isn’t just a concern with UCPD, but with Berkeley Police Department as well. In light of Berkeley City Council voting against amendments to spit hood policies, the Police Review Commission recently discussed prohibitions on BPD’s use of spit hoods on pre-adolescent and school-age children. This ongoing discussion demonstrates that the Berkeley community is deeply concerned with the traumatic effects that aggressive restraints can have on minors.
In response to the incident, Chancellor Carol Christ called for an “outside review” of the events that transpired June 26. And according to an email from campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, campus leadership has hired an external firm to conduct this review. This review is important. UCPD’s actions in this case have demonstrated the need for stringent and accessible policies detailing how the department will handle reports made against children and avoid extreme and traumatizing actions. These policies should also include specific procedures for incidents involving racial bias and plans for more consistent and thorough racial bias training.
According to Gilmore, the campus is creating a new and independent advisory board on policing and campus safety in the fall in order to improve transparency and accountability between the community and UCPD. If the board accomplishes the goals it has set, this will serve as a tangible and effective step toward improving UCPD accountability. But in order to truly improve police accountability, campus administration must ensure that this newly created advisory board is consistently checking in with the community. The board should be regularly communicating with UCPD on how to improve policy and training practices.
When it comes to the safety of children and the seriousness of racial bias, the campus administration cannot let this board become another review commission that is not listened to and not publicly accessible. Officials should be quick to respond to initial concerns, the review process should be a timely one, and it is beyond imperative that the responses include concrete policy and procedural plans to make sure no other children end up in situations like this one.