Berkeley City Council adopts revised police use-of-force policy

Berkeley Police Department
Karin Goh/File
Berkeley City Council passed a revision to the police department's use-of-force policy, adopting directives from the 8 Can't Wait campaign, among other changes.

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After almost 10 hours of discussion, Berkeley City Council approved a revised version of the Berkeley Police Department’s use-of-force policy — per the Police Review Commission’s, or PRC’s, recommendation — among other items, at its Thursday meeting.

A process that began in October 2017, the revision of BPD’s policy was reignited when the department submitted a draft to the newly formed PRC Use of Force Policy Subcommittee in January, according to PRC Officer Katherine Lee. The revision process was then put on hold because of the subcommittee’s inability to meet at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to more recent events, however, the revision was taken up once again and labeled an urgent item June 9 to be addressed and approved before the council’s summer recess.

“Revisions to the Berkeley Police Department’s use-of-force policy have for too long been allowed to remain on the back burner, said PRC chair Kitty Calavita during the meeting. “Recent events, including the murder of George Floyd and so many other Black men and women, have added a new sense of urgency to this task.”

The revised policy adds on to and amends the one proposed in January to include all “8 Can’t Wait” directives and to clarify the definition of use of force. Furthermore, it requires that all uses of force be reported and categorized into levels on a continuum, as well as that annual use-of-force reports be issued for analysis.

In addition, the subcommittee established a standard requiring officers to use the minimum amount of force that is “objectively reasonable, objectively necessary and proportional.” This limits the allowable use of deadly force during situations in which death or serious bodily injury is impending.

BPD also submitted its own recommendations for the policy. This included, among other suggestions, a clarification on what uses of force should be reported, which sparked debate regarding physical contact and unholstering of weapons. Additionally, BPD recommended a “narrow exception” to the City Council’s June 9 ban on tear gas, which had prompted the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office to state that it will withdraw mutual aid, according to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín.

“It’s outrageous that our sheriff, who was elected by the people of Berkeley and the entire county, would threaten the city of Berkeley and threaten the safety of our community because they disagree with our policy decision,” Arreguín alleged during the meeting.

Though Arreguín said he would be willing to accept BPD’s recommendation on tear gas, other council members disagreed, standing by their original decision.

By the end of the meeting, they voted to postpone the decision, keeping the present ban in place, and to investigate the validity of the sheriff’s statement.

According to Calavita, a 2018 Center for Policing Equity report found that Black people in Berkeley are 12 times more likely to be subjected to use of force by police than white individuals are.

To help mitigate this, the council adopted Councilmember Kate Harrison’s proposal to alter the language, requiring there to be an “objectively reasonable belief,” rather than an officer’s belief, that use of force is warranted. Councilmember Ben Bartlett said he believes that the previous wording exacerbates implicit bias.

Aside from the use-of-force policy revision, the council also approved a resolution that allows the city manager to increase Berkeley’s contract with the city of Piedmont by up to $180,134. This contract involves the animal care services that Berkeley provides to Piedmont, seeing that Piedmont does not have its own animal shelter.

Under the existing contract, the cost of sheltering these animals exceeds the revenue that Berkeley receives from Piedmont. The new contract will remain in effect until 2025. Councilmember Cheryl Davila, however, took issue with the amount of time Piedmont received to pay.

“We’re in a COVID-19 pandemic, we have a $40 million deficit and we’re giving a city that I’m sure could afford to pay the correct amount five years to get up to the right amount that we should be charging them,” Davila said. “It just seems a little ludicrous.”

Nonetheless, the resolution was adopted with two abstentions and one absent council member.

The last item on the agenda, concerning amendments to the Berkeley Municipal Code for clarification regarding declarations of local emergencies and “First Amendment Curfews,” was postponed and will be addressed at the council’s next meeting July 28.

Contact Veronica Roseborough at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @v_roseborough.