Berkeley looks to increase transparency with Police Accountability Board

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Ariel Hayat/File
The city of Berkeley aims to replace the Police Review Commission with the Police Accountability Board to increase transparency and accountability of the Berkeley Police Department.

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The city of Berkeley looks to implement the Police Accountability Board, or PAB, to increase transparency and accountability of the Berkeley Police Department.

With the passage of Berkeley Measure II in the November 2020 elections, the Police Review Commission, or PRC, will be replaced by the PAB through a charter amendment. The transition process is being overseen by deputy city manager David White and new members will be seated by July 1, according to PRC chair Kitty Calavita.

“The major difference in the interaction will be that the Police Accountability Board will be a somewhat stronger body in general and vis-a-vis the police department,” Calavita said. “There will continue to be lots of interaction and collaboration.”

The PAB will also have nine members like the PRC, but the city council will be able to vote on appointments to the board. Around February, applications will open and citizens of Berkeley will be able to apply, Calavita mentioned.

Calavita also discussed how the PAB will be able to gain access to internal police documents through the charter amendment.

Currently, the power to order the police chief to provide documents to the PRC falls upon the city manager, Calavita added. The PAB, on the other hand, will be more independent from the city manager and more responsive to the city council.

“The city manager is not a political position,” Calavita said. “The city council is, and so the city council responds to the community.”

Another difference that the PAB has, according to Calavita, is a lowering of the standard of evidence for sustaining complaints of police misconduct.

The PRC does not currently receive many complaints, though it is unclear if that is because BPD is doing a good job or if people are intimidated by the complaint hearing and are afraid to come forward, according to Calavita.

“It may be that we receive more citizen complaints, as the process for hearing those complaints changes, with the evidence standard less strict, and with our access to documents,” Calavita said.

There are also some minor changes in terms of how long the board has to hear complaints and to make recommendations to the chief, according to Calavita.

The implementation of the PAB will work alongside a shift away from the police and towards mental health experts and homeless experts for 911 calls that do not require armed responses.

“It’s really important because this charter amendment increases the transparency and the accountability of the police,” Calavita said. “The overall Berkeley community will have more access to what’s going on in the police department.”

Catherine Hsu is the lead crime and courts reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @catherinehsuDC.