Berkeley Police Review Commission subcommittee revises use-of-force policy

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Brianna Luna/File

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The Berkeley Police Review Commission’s Use of Force Policy Subcommittee has a big task ahead of it — to “wordsmith,” on a short deadline, an important police policy that none of the commission members are particularly happy with.

The subcommittee met Thursday to discuss language changes to Berkeley Police Department’s Policy 300 guidelines on the use of force for officers. According to subcommittee chair George Perezvelez, the policy is used internally by the police department for training and is also available to the public.

“This general order 300 — it’s so deficient in how it is written as a comparative to every single other general order and use of force that I’ve seen,” Perezvelez said at the meeting. “This is a lexipol at its worst.”

At the meeting, subcommittee member Juliet Leftwich suggested that the subcommittee rewrite the policy from scratch, rather than edit the current language.

Perezvelez said under the current timeline, the subcommittee would not have time to do that, as the City Council requested that the revised policy be submitted to it before the summer recess at the end of July.

He added that this could be the beginning of the process of reforming Policy 300, however, and that the subcommittee could further revise the policy later.

“Use of force pivots on everything,” Perezvelez said during the meeting. “It is the beginning and the end of improper policing. It is the beginning and the end of improper arrest.”

The subcommittee focused on moving a “sanctity of life” definition clause to the top of the document and a “policy and scope” section just below that.

Leftwich said she wanted the “sanctity of life” statement to mirror that of the Camden County Police Department, which includes clauses that give police officers provisions to protect themselves and stipulate that the use of force “should never be considered routine.”

She added that she also liked the clause that states when force is used, it should be used as minimally as possible.

Perezvelez agreed with adding a minimal clause to the policy. He advocated at the meeting for adding the word “necessary” as well, which he said he thought would constrain the current “reasonableness” standard.

This “reasonableness” standard, which derives from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, maintains that officers must act in a “reasonable” manner given what they know in the moment of the scene, rather than in hindsight, and their actions will be judged in that way.

The revised policy will be shared with BPD, which Perezvelez said may write its own policy, taking the subcommittee’s recommendations into account. Perezvelez, however, said BPD’s support is not necessary for the subcommittee, as the City Council will be voting on it.

“Feedback from the department will be taken as it comes, but there is a solid need and understanding of what needs to be changed,” Perezvelez said during the meeting. “If the department is adversely against those changes, then that’s their loss.”

The policy will be developed over the next two weeks by the subcommittee. It will then be heard by the full Police Review Commission June 24 and sent to the City Council by June 30.

Kate Finman is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.