Berkeley community calls to defund police at Berkeley Police Review Commission meeting

PRC meeting
Sam Albillo/File

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City residents and commission members advocated for different means of reform at the Berkeley Police Review Commission, or PRC, meeting Wednesday night.

The meeting was held over Zoom and ceremonially adjourned in memory of George Floyd. More city residents than usual logged on to attend the meeting, according to PRC member Katherine Lee, and many attributed their community engagement to the national ongoing conversation surrounding the efficacy of policing. Absent from the meeting were members of the Berkeley Police Department. Kitty Calavita, chair of the PRC, said this is because of the pandemic

“The police department usually attends our meetings and wants to when we review policy, but they are now unable to attend because of COVID,” Calavita said at the meeting. “Therefore, we can’t have regular meetings where we’d have agendas related to various important policy matters.”

The meeting began with timed three-minute speeches from city residents. Several residents explicitly called for the defunding of the police department, and many gave their opinions on where they think funds could be reappropriated to better serve community needs.

Berkeley resident Kelly Hammargren said she thinks the amount of money spent on policing is jarring, pointing out that the city only spends “21% of the general budget on the fire department” as fire season approaches.

Calavita followed residents’ speeches with a statement pointing out that “knees have been on the necks of people of color” by the criminal justice system and every societal institution, adding that she thinks now is the time to go beyond words to address the racism seen in police killings of Black people.

“The police oversight commission is committed to doing its part,” Calavita said at the meeting.

Fellow commissioner George Perezvelez spoke shortly after and noted that he has been a part of the commission for 13 years, during which the committee’s conversations have revolved around force.

During the course of the meeting, the PRC dissolved its standard of proof subcommittee, renewed its lexipol policies subcommittee, appointed a use of force subcommittee and established an outreach subcommittee to raise awareness about the PRC in Berkeley.

While this was happening, residents messaged on the Zoom chat, voicing their opinions and wanting to “cut through the bureaucracy.”

One user advocated for the commission to consider a subcommittee to defund the police department, but this was not addressed by commissioners at the meeting.

Contact Zara Khan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @zara_khanDC.