Berkeley Police Review Commission discusses revisions to stop and search procedure

Alex Casey/Staff

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The city of Berkeley’s Police Review Commission, or PRC, met Wednesday to discuss a proposal that would adjust stop and search procedures and the conditions under which it is appropriate to ask about parole or probation status.

Commissioner Kitty Calavita spoke on behalf of the PRC Probation & Parole Searches Subcommittee, which introduced potential changes to the current stop and search policy. Calavita was joined by Sgt. Joseph Turner of the Oakland Police Department, or OPD, and Assistant Chief Marcus Dawal of the Alameda County Probation Department.

“California is one of only nine states that allow police officers to do suspicionless searches of those under supervised release. California’s neighboring states of Nevada and Oregon prohibit such suspicionless searches,” according to the background proposal.

The proposal background added that asking citizens about their parole or probation statuses can facilitate “suspicionless” searches and potentially hinder relationships between police and communities of color. Some community members raised similar concerns during public comment.

Berkeley Police Department data has shown that Black residents are more likely to be stopped and searched than white residents. Black motorists, in particular, are about four times as likely as white motorists to be searched when stopped.

“When we talk about these disparities, I don’t want to give the impression that we’re talking about deliberate racial profiling by the Berkeley police, neither do I want to give an impression that somehow the police are uniquely different from other institutions in American society,” Calavita said.

To help remedy these issues, the Probation & Parole Searches Subcommittee proposed that officers should not ask about probation or parole status if the person stopped has correctly identified themselves. The proposal added that the probation or parole question should be reserved for “necessary” situations, such as when it could protect the safety of others, the detainee or the officer.

The subcommittee also proposed a revision of warrantless searches of individuals confirmed to be on supervised releases. Those who are stopped and on supervised release for a nonviolent offense cannot be searched if there are no “articulable facts” connecting the individual to criminal activity. Those on release for violent offenses, however, may be searched.

“Because it is so hard to root out through training alone, it is important to establish policies that limit the opportunity for those unconscious perceptions to be actualized into practice on the ground,” Calavita said.

Turner provided insight on OPD’s recently passed revisions to its policy, which limits when parolees can be searched. He added, however, the instances in which a full search could be important.

“When you’re frisking the outer clothing of a person for weapons, unfortunately, officers miss weapons a lot more than when they do a full search of that person,” Turner said. “Ultimately, removing a weapon from a person beforehand can exponentially lower the possibility that the encounter will spiral out of control into an unfortunate use of force.”

Turner explained the difficulty of developing any sort of all-encompassing rule for search policy but stressed the importance of balancing community-police relations and public safety.

No action was taken by the commission on this item, and further discussion was pushed to its Dec. 11 meeting.

Other discussions concerned the treatment of police force mental illness, Lexipol policies and police surveillance. Discussion on commendations of police department personnel and an amendment on how the PRC should deal with informal complaints were also postponed to the next meeting.

“When people feel respected by the police and other authorities, they are more likely to attribute legitimacy to those authorities, and more likely, subsequently, to comply with their orders,” Calavita said.

Contact Taylor Rudman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @TaylorRudman.