Berkeley City Council members will vote Tuesday on whether to place a City Charter amendment measure from the Police Review Commission, or PRC, on the Nov. 3 general municipal election ballot.
The proposed charter amendment, which was first proposed to City Council by former PRC chair Sahana Matthews in 2018, would replace the PRC with a police board and establish the position of director of police accountability. According to the amendment, the police board and director of police accountability would operate independently of the city manager.
In 2016, former PRC chair George Perezvelez wrote a letter to City Council outlining possible changes to the original PRC ordinance that would strengthen the commission. According to deputy city manager David White, who presented an adjusted version of the charter amendment to PRC members in a meeting Wednesday, the amendment incorporated suggestions from City Council, the Berkeley Police Association and community engagement.
“We went through all the issues in the meet-and-confer process with the Berkeley Police Association and researched outside entities with very strong City Council leadership to bring the charter amendment that you see in front of you,” White said during the meeting. “It maintains an emphasis on the independence of the commission and the purpose is to ensure that there is independent civilian oversight of the police department through an independent police board.”
The differences between the current version of the amendment and the original proposal submitted by the PRC raised some concerns, according to Perezvelez. During the meeting, members of the PRC voted to draft a letter to City Council that would outline recommendations and points on both the amendment and ballot text.
One issue raised by commissioners during the meeting was the process by which members of the new commission can be removed by City Council members. According to the amendment, commissioners can be removed by six votes in City Council for any reason. The original proposal stated that board members can only be removed on certain grounds by a majority vote in City Council upon recommendation from seven commissioners.
Another area of concern, according to PRC vice-chair Nathan Mizell, is the amount of power given to the director of police accountability in the current amendment. According to the amendment, some of the responsibilities and powers include overseeing investigations into complaints received by the police board, presenting results to the board and receiving objections from complainants that contest the chief of police’s determination.
“My understanding is that the charter amendment was a result of a 2017 referral from the City Council to strengthen the PRC,” said Commissioner Juliet Leftwich during the meeting. “I think it as it stands, this amendment weakens the authority of the PRC and the commissioners in particular, and it concerns me that members of the City Council can remove a member for any reason.”