Berkeley police to require de-escalation tactics, update use-of-force policies

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The Berkeley Police Department announced Monday it would be making substantial updates to its use-of-force policies.

The press release, written by BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood, noted the “abhorrent” death of George Floyd, which sparked public outrage after a video surfaced of a Minnesota police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck. In light of the past two weeks, according to the press release, BPD has received many questions about its use-of-force policy.

“We strive to treat people with dignity and respect, in accordance with our core values. We implement and follow policies to minimize or eliminate harms, injuries, or deaths,” Greenwood said in an email. “However, as best practices and law have evolved, we at the Department and the City Council recognized the policy needed to be updated.”

BPD has been in the process of updating its use-of-force policy since earlier this year. Specific changes were compared in the release to the suggested “8 Can’t Wait” changes for police departments, which Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and City Councilmember Kate Harrison introduced Friday as an emergency item for City Council to consider implementing for BPD.

The policy specifically contains requirements for BPD officers to use de-escalation techniques, urges officers not to place themselves in the path of vehicles if it might require them to use deadly force and offers extensive guidance for officers to consider when making use of force choices. Additionally, the policy would expand circumstances under which a formal use-of-force report would need to be filed by an officer if implemented.

The policy continues tactics used under the department’s previous policy, such as the banning of chokeholds and strangleholds, requiring verbal warnings before shootings and exhausting all de-escalation tactics before use of deadly force. Both policies also require officers to intervene if other officers are using excessive force.

“We want our community to know we lead the way in our profession,” Greenwood said in the email. “Our current and coming revised force policy will keep us at the forefront of progressive policing in our country.”

According to Greenwood, deadly force is rarely used by BPD, which responds to more than 70,000 calls per year.

He added that between 2015 and 2019, the police department had an average of 32.4 uses of force per year and that the department has been involved in three shootings over the past decade, the most recent of which was in 2012.

“We achieve these results for many reasons, not the least among them: We screen for and hire good, smart, brave people,” Greenwood said in the email. “We train them according to our strong policies and organizational culture; and we provide active supervision in the field.”

The policy has been submitted to the Police Review Commission and will be considered by a subcommittee Thursday.

Check back for updates.

Sebastian Cahill is a deputy news editor. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.