‘Old ways are over’: Police Accountability Board discusses consent searches

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Caroline Lobel/Staff
At its final meeting of the year Wednesday, the city's Police Accountability Board discussed several issues, notably the Berkeley Police Department's search consent form.

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Berkeley’s Police Accountability Board, or PAB, looked to the future during its final regular meeting of the year Wednesday, hearing updates on search consent policies and other important issues.

The bulk of the meeting discussed the Berkeley Police Department’s search consent form, which provides officers with blanket approval to search someone’s person, residence or vehicle when necessary, according to Berkeley resident Kitt Saginor.

While a draft policy for new guidelines is under review by the Berkeley Police Association, many board members noted a lack of communication on the drafting of the new policy.

“When it came to the actual drafting of the policy, no one has seen the policy,” said PAB board chairperson Ismail Ramsey during the meeting. “Essentially, we’re told we’ll see it 30 days after you implement it. To me, that’s not collaboration; that’s the bare minimum that’s required by the charter.”

Under recommendations from the city’s Fair and Impartial Policing Working Group, officers currently have to receive written consent for all consent searches. The new form, which is being discussed by the police union in its “meet and confer” process, will cover “additional categories” of consent, according to interim Police Chief Jen Louis.

Ramsey and PAB board member Nathan Mizell noted the inefficiency of presenting the policy to the board after the union’s “meet and confer” process. Mizell said this could lead to a back-and-forth between BPD and the board over best practices and small recommendations to policy.

“I would far rather have a relationship where that gets shared with us beforehand throughout the process as we were specifically put to monitor this particular process,” Mizell said during the meeting. “The old board, the old ways are over. This is a new board, and we have to be more involved.”

Apart from consent searches, the board heard updates from Louis and BPD Lt. Robert Rittenhouse on department staffing and vaccination rates. While Louis did not have department-specific information, she said 94% of city employees are vaccinated while 5% have received exemptions.

During the meeting, board members also discussed the death of Stephen Gaines, a patient at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. BPD officers found Gaines unresponsive at the hospital after receiving multiple reports of a disturbance. Louis said there was no reportable use of force on the part of the officers.

Ramsey said he initially heard about Gaines’ death through the press rather than BPD command staff, and he asked for more communication from Louis on such incidents.

“To the extent that we’re an oversight organization and we’re trying to be collaborative, it would be useful to at least have some reports to this and not only hear about it through the media,” Ramsey said during the meeting.

Contact Aditya Katewa at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @adkatewa1.