Berkeley Copwatch was present yesterday at the City of Berkeley’s Mental Health Commission meeting. One of the items on their agenda was the in-custody death of Kayla Moore, a mentally ill, transgender woman who died at the hands of the police. In addition to having said virtually nothing publicly about her death, the Berkeley Police Department has said they would like to share but they aren’t legally allowed to. This isn’t true. The police are allowed to release information such as dispatch logs, radio transmissions, and other records…they don’t want to, so they say they legally can’t. We have asked for this information, and they deny us this information.
We went to the Mental Health Commission meeting to speak about the death of Kayla Moore, and part of the discussion involved the BPD’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. This is a program that has been adopted by the Berkeley Police Department, with the ostensible aim of making them better at interacting with mentally ill individuals. Hopefully, instead of just acting like a police officer and escalating and hurting someone badly – maybe very badly – maybe lethally, a police officer would use a better approach to interacting with mentally ill individuals. There is a much bigger discussion as to whether the police are even the appropriate agency for interacting the mentally ill, but that isn’t the point of this article.
After the death of Kayla Moore, the department’s Public Information Officer, Jennifer Coats, wrote this piece, no doubt hoping to allay community concern about Moore’s death.
“The Berkeley Police Department has a long history of working with respect and sensitivity to mental health issues in our community and among people with whom we come into contact. Our department has a positive reputation in the community for its interactions with mental health consumers.
Furthermore, we are increasing our level of service and expertise in this area through our Department’s new Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program. This program is based on a national, best-practices model for police interactions with people with mental health issues. These training efforts, and the expansion of the program, are continuing throughout the year.”
In the course of attending this meeting we learned some things. One, nobody actually knows how many officers have been CIT trained. The number was “7” was thrown out, a number which we have heard from another source as well. 7 out of 160+ officers? That’s not that many. But wait…maybe it isn’t 7, we don’t actually know because Sgt. Jeff Shannon of the BPD refuses to communicate with anybody. Two, the training is voluntary, because police officers don’t like this sort of training. One individual brought up that they like their firearms training. Cops like to act like cops. They like batons and pepper spray and Tasers and guns. They don’t want to talk someone through a crisis (see paragraph 2, above). Three, that one of the members of the commission believes it’s always better to accommodate the police because of their psychology. What does that mean? Hmmm…maybe if she thinks they are that dangerous or aggressive, perhaps they shouldn’t be rewarded. The commission as a whole seemed concerned about the fact that CIT training isn’t mandatory, and about Moore’s death, and there are individuals on the commission that are concerned about the status of CIT within the BPD.
The death of Kayla Moore, the secrecy, and the deceitful and evasive practices of the police will continue to be followed by Berkeley Copwatch. How does someone die during an interaction with the police, regardless of the facts, and the BPD are in a position to release no information, and to lie about the reasons they can’t? This situation is partially a product of a consistent lack of serious oversight by the Police Review Commission and the City Council. We will be following this as well.