Berkeley Police Review Commission discusses surveillance, police policy

PRC meeting
Sam Albillo/File

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The Berkeley Police Review Commission, or PRC, discussed police policy changes and surveillance software for infrastructure work at its meeting Wednesday.

The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing two proposals: an ordinance regarding consequences for police officers withholding identification and a resolution called “No Police Revolving Door,” which would ban the hiring of police officers with a history of “serious misconduct.”

Commissioner Ismail Ramsey expressed concern about consequences for an officer covering their name and badge, saying that classifying the act as a misdemeanor is “over the top.” Ultimately, the group endorsed the City Council proposal on the condition that repeated willful violations would be grounds for discipline up to and including termination.

Commissioners were wary about approving the Revolving Door resolution, as they said they were not given adequate time to conduct a thorough analysis, according to Commissioner Juliet Leftwich. There was conversation about clarifying the language used in the resolution in order to decide what qualifies as a pattern of misconduct, but the PRC did not reach a unanimous agreement.

The use-of-force policy will be discussed at a special meeting June 29, although a subcommittee has been meeting to discuss critical items.

Berkeley Police Department Chief Andrew Greenwood joined the meeting to share a general update about policing in Berkeley and his worries about losing officers. He said roughly 20 officers are eligible to retire this year, and due to the “immense pressure” of the profession, he is concerned that more officers will leave the job.

Greenwood expressed openness to an alternative for responding to situations with homeless people or mental health crises.

“The mental health care system is such that it fails people, which is how we end up with people in crisis,” Greenwood said at the meeting. “If there was better care available, people wouldn’t be in crisis.”

The PRC also discussed the implementation of Cyclomedia, a mapping software similar to Google Maps Street View. Joy Brown, a senior management analyst from the city’s Department of Public Works, said it has been challenging to manage infrastructure projects with inefficient data systems and a lack of information about city assets.

Brown cited the Bright Streets Initiative, a recommendation to paint all street markings and curbs and improve traffic signage throughout Berkeley, as a project that has yet to be completed and likely cannot happen unless the city has proper data. 

An employee from Cyclomedia would drive a car equipped with a camera and sensor system around Berkeley for 60 to 90 days to capture all streets and city assets. After uploading the data and blurring every face and license plate, the information would be sent to the city of Berkeley to be accessed only by approved city employees, and the unblurred images would be deleted.

Some commissioners, including Michael Chang and commission chair Kitty Calavita, initially expressed concerns about privacy.

“We are concerned that the blurring of faces and license plates is not sufficient in all cases to remove identity,” Calavita said during the meeting. “It is for this reason that access restrictions be stringently upheld.”

The commission unanimously approved the recommendation for acquisition of the software. 

Contact Naomi Birenbaum at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @NaomiBirenbaum1.