Berkeley Police Review Commission discusses budget options, annual report

PRC meeting
Nirvana Ellaboudy/File

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Berkeley Police Review Commission, or PRC, discussed the impacts of COVID-19 on its budget and the Berkeley Police Department’s budget, as well as reviewed the 2019 annual report during its virtual meeting Wednesday.

PRC secretary and head author Katherine Lee presented the 2019 annual statistical report on the PRC’s activity and answered questions from commissioners and members of the public regarding the report’s clarity and accuracy. After the report was discussed, the commission moved on to discuss the budget.

Earlier in the meeting, Berkeley resident Carole Masakin had expressed concern during public comment over possible pay cuts and models that the PRC may have to operate under in the future, a reality that Lee confirmed.

“There’s no way for PRC to exchange even a 10% reduction or deferral in its budget without affecting staff, as the staff cost is 75% of the PRC’s budget,” Lee said during the meeting. “It will mean an effect on the staff’s ability to support policy work and to conduct investigations.”

The PRC’s budget is not the only one affected by the city’s budget shortfall, and the BPD’s financial status was also discussed.

According to Berkeley resident Charles Clarke during public comment, three scenarios of cuts to first responders’ funding were outlined during the May 26 City Council meeting.

All three options cut nine unsworn personnel from the force. The last police report listed 172 sworn officers, and the City Council’s plans offered strategies that lay off up to 29 sworn officers. Clarke said this would be “challenging” for the department.

Masakin echoed Clarke’s sentiments and said first responders should not be laid off. 

“It is not a good idea to decrease our first responders, either police or fire. There is some thought now that there is a decrease in crime — that doesn’t mean that this is going to stay stable,” Masakin said during the meeting. “We really don’t know what’s going to happen as we move forward with COVID; this is going to be with us for a long time.”

Though it was not on the agenda, PRC chair Kitty Calavita talked about the lack of meetings the PRC has had in the past few months. Calavita added that commissions in other cities have been meeting over Zoom and that Berkeley is an exception.

According to Calavita, a memo that was sent May 5 to council members, but not to the commission, stated that some city commissions, including the PRC, can meet.

To deal with uncertainty in the memo, Calavita proposed that the commission write a letter to the city manager and mayor to advocate for the urgency of the meetings. Other chairs clarified that this would be an individual letter, not one from the entire board, as it was not on the agenda.

“This has been two months without any regular meeting,” Calavita said during the meeting. “Transparency and oversight is so important in city government.”

Contact Dina Katgara at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dinakatgara.