Update on Berkeley’s Police Oversight Efforts

Berkeley’s Police Review Commission (PRC) held a special meeting on  Saturday, March 13th to highlight the need to apply now for positions on the new Police Accountability Board (PAB).  The League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville publicized this meeting in an email to members, in their weekly eblast, and on social media.  A Spanish Interpreter was part of this event.

Mayor Jesse Arreguin spoke on modernizing the PRC, that Berkeley’s PRC was one of the first in the nation, and that Berkeley should remain on the “cutting edge” for others to follow.  Commissioner Nathan Mizell gave an overview of the PRC that was founded in 1973.

Councilmember Kate Harrison explained that citizens were not bringing their complaints to the PRC due to its lack of authority to act. She then lauded the possibility that the new PAB could do more.  To name a few things, the PAB may access and subpoena records of the police department, advise and recommend discipline, and monitor mutual aid agreements with other law enforcement agencies.  The police department will be required to run any new police policy by the PAB before it is adopted. There will be a  national search for the Director of Police Accountability (DPA). The DPA’s powers and responsibilities will be independent of other city agencies, though accountable to the city council.  

At the webinar, the possibility of having a second such event met with approval.  There were about 45 people at this meeting, and the PRC Outreach Subcommitee wants a greater chance to recruit a wide set of diverse applicants to apply by March 29th.  

Secretary Katherine Lee gave out information on the time commitment required, term limits and compensation.  Qualifications for applicants included that one be a Berkeley resident familiar with community organizing, police procedures, and/or police oversight. In the background check a criminal record would not be a barrier to the applicant.  Individual Council Members will review and nominate their selections; then the City Council will vote as a whole to confirm.

Link to the application 

Other police reform efforts in Berkeley include the ReimagIning Public Safety Task Force (RPSTF) , which held its introductory meeting February 18. The National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (NICJR) introduced their plans to coordinate and manage the RPSTF by leading a community engagement process “to develop a new paradigm of public safety in Berkeley.” 

NICJR’s framework consists of reducing the footprint of law enforcement, optimizing what remains of policing, and reinvesting the savings of smaller police budgets into community service.” NICJR uses a system of reduce, reuse, and reinvest.

“Reduce” refers to new structures of community safety that focus on crisis response and de-escalation techniques. This would allow police work to focus on dramatic violence in the community. 

“Reuse” refers to the systematic problems of policing across a cultural divide, building in a less antagonistic way, and transforming policing into protection of the community. Improvement will come from implementing new policies with restrictions on use of force and alternative techniques to defuse heated situations and eliminating stop-and-frisk. At the root of these policies, there must be frequent and effective training and accountability. 

Lastly, the NICJR focuses on “reinvesting” resources away from police departments and toward beneficial, local services and programs for communities. 

-Sophia Kerievsky, Christine Wenrich

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