Berkeley’s Police Accountability Board, or PAB, heard concerns about the use of a surveillance drone and the dismissal of civilians’ complaints at its regular meeting Tuesday.
During public comment, Tracy Rosenberg, co-coordinator for Oakland Privacy, a group that advocates for transparency and oversight of surveillance technology, raised concerns about the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office’s use of a drone at Berkeley and Albany’s annual Solano Avenue Stroll held last month.
The sheriff’s office used the drone after they were invited by the Berkeley Police Department, or BPD, under the “exigent circumstances” exception to the approval process ordinarily required by the City of Berkeley’s surveillance ordinance, according to Rosenberg.
“According to BPD, the imminent threat or exigent circumstance was that there was an attack on a festival somewhere else, which we believe is Highland Park, Illinois,” Rosenberg said at the meeting. “Which was terrible, but not an imminent threat in California.”
BPD Chief Jennifer Louis clarified that the Albany Police Department made the request to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, and by the time BPD was notified at the planning meeting for the fair, there was not sufficient time to go through the formal process of submitting an acquisition report and use policy for the drone technology.
The board members and Louis discussed the definition of an “exigent circumstance” and the permissibility of BPD requesting exigent approval for the use of surveillance technology at the fair. Ultimately, the PAB voted to issue a fact-finding investigation to figure out “the correct sequence of actions.”
“Transparency in and of itself is important, although a fact-finding investigation will not lead to disciplinary action,” PAB member Kitty Calavita said at the meeting.
Another concern was brought up by Maddie Driscoll from Berkeley Law’s Police Review Project, which helps represent those who file complaints against BPD with the PAB. Driscoll noted that between 2016 and 2018, 8% of complaints were dismissed and only 6% were sustained.
Driscoll emphasized that the summary dismissal process should be taken seriously to increase public trust in the justice system.
“Many of us have sat with complainants who were frustrated by the lack of transparency in the process while they have had their complaints dismissed with no hearing,” Driscoll said at the meeting. “They are people who experience very real abuses, and this system is supposed to be for them.”
Louis also provided staffing updates for fiscal year 2023, noting the authorization of 302 full-time employees at BPD. Louis added that BPD was able to arrest a suspect this month who allegedly followed a 12-year-old girl as she was leaving an after-school program at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.
Additionally, catalytic converter theft is on the rise, according to Louis. There have been 367 reported incidents from the beginning of the year through September, a 35% increase from this time last year, Louis noted. A law will go into effect next year that would help address the issue by making it illegal for buyers to purchase catalytic converters from unauthorized parties, Louis added.
“The intent of that law is that only dealers or auto dismantlers will be able to sell catalytic converters with the idea that this will cut down on the issue,” Louis said at the meeting.