As Berkeley transitions away from the Police Review Commission, the city’s Police Accountability Board held its first meeting Wednesday.
Comprised of a wide variety of community members, including UC Berkeley law professors, attorneys, police officers and former commission members, the board is designed to objectively investigate civilian complaints of police misconduct.
Berkeley residents approved the creation of the board in November 2020 to replace the Police Review Commission, Berkeley’s previous system of civilian oversight, which was adopted by Berkeley voters in 1973.
“Tonight is a historic moment in our city’s history and it’s a new chapter in civilian oversight of our police department,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín at the meeting. “My hope is that this board will improve our community’s confidence in our process, will increase stability and oversight and improve how our police department serves our community.”
The board is intended to expand civilian oversight of the Berkeley Police Department and provide more time to conduct investigations, greater access to police records and the ability to recommend discipline, according to a city of Berkeley press release.
The Police Review Commission, BPD and the Berkeley Police Association collaboratively developed the legislation leading to the board’s creation, according to Arreguín.
“Most of us police officers actually invite a lot of the change and discussion that is going on currently,” said Matthew Valle, BPD officer and Berkeley Police Association member, at the meeting. “I’m really looking forward to participating from the union’s perspective.”
Jennifer Louis, interim BPD chief, echoed these sentiments. She described the importance of collaboration between BPD and the board to build community trust and understanding and added that she hopes BPD will continue “leading the way” in terms of law enforcement.
Arreguín added that Berkeley is at the forefront of progressive policing. He said the city has made efforts to adopt an innovative system of policing that complies with constitutional standards and reflects best practices.
Nevertheless, Black people made up 49% of those arrested and 46% of those injured by the police over the last two years, although they constitute only 8% of the population of Berkeley, according to Kitt Saginor, a Berkeley resident.
“I know that your work cannot fix all the causes of those shameful statistics,” Saginor said at the meeting. “But acknowledging these numbers and paying close attention to exactly how they come about is crucial for mitigating systemic racism both through changes in policy and through collaboration with reimagining policing and with other public and community groups.”
Saginor urged the board to address racial disparities in policing and to be mindful of the people who will be affected by its decisions.
According to Katherine Lee, interim director of the Police Accountability Board, the board plans to address regulations governing the handling of complaints, outreach to the public, temporary standing rules and policy work.
“As we move forward, we just have to keep in mind this is a new day, and people are not interested in the old policing,” said Marc Staton, a Berkeley resident, at the meeting.