"Resignation from Police Review Commission" by Andrea Prichett, published in Berkeley Daily Planet
Dear Councilmember Davila and Members of the Police Review Commission,
While I am grateful for having had the opportunity to serve my community and to influence police policy, I am resigning from the Police Review Commission. I want to thank you, the other PRC Commissioners and staff for their assistance as I learned how the system does and doesn’t work.
It is my conclusion that the PRC, as it is presently constituted, is completely ineffective at addressing the concerns of the marginalized people in our city who are most vulnerable and most likely to be in need of assistance. The current PRC bears little resemblance to the scrappy agency that once challenged police practices and engaged the community in creating and revising policies, identifying when actual misconduct occurred and monitoring the functioning of the department. This was possible because of the access that the PRC had to information as well as the determination of city officials to guard against violations of the constitutional rights of our citizens.
In the current situation, the PRC has almost no access to data, information, reports or any source documents that could be used to evaluate police work in this city and so we are unable to provide actual oversight. The commission relies almost exclusively on anecdotal information and oral reports provided by BPD. Either BPD is not employing data based methods with which to evaluate their effectiveness or they are simply refusing to share this information with the PRC. In either case, without the cooperation of the department, the PRC cannot actually provide credible oversight. The Commission even wrote a letter to the City Attorney asking what information they believed we COULD look at and never even got a response. The situation is so extreme that the PRC Officer told me that I had faster and easier access to information as a citizen than as a commissioner on the PRC.
The lack of access to evaluative information is downright perilous. The PRC is often provided with opportunities to hear from the police perspectives. However, the PRC has no metrics by which to actually evaluate police effectiveness. We have yet to receive information that could help us to identify a) how much force is being used, b) how many cases are being closed or referred for prosecution, c) how effectively the budget is being maintained d) whether these allocations are actually helping the people of Berkeley e) what the (data informed) goals of the department even are from year to year. We have no data that would allow us to substantiate the often stated claim that our police are among “the best in the nation”. We are supposed to take it on blind faith that the police would “never do such a thing”. To be clear: I am not saying that the police are not doing a good job. I am saying that none of the commissioners can honestly answer the question because we simply don’t have the information to support or refute that claim.
Making any kind of fair determination of whether an officer engaged in misconduct is also not really possible. The standard of “clear and convincing evidence” for complaints is unreasonably high, especially for a process that supposedly does not require that complainants have or be attorneys in order to stand a chance of winning. The lopsided complaint procedures currently in place greatly favor the officer and anyone with a serious allegation of misconduct would be better off going directly to a courtroom to seek redress than to use this very flawed and demoralizing process.
From the lack of accommodation and assistance when filing a complaint to the insensitivity of some commissioners when it comes to consideration of issues of disability, trauma, mental illness and homelessness, there is no good reason to use this complaint process. What was once a relatively accessible agency that welcomed those with the courage to follow through on a complaint is now a place where complaints go to die. The PRC record of sustained complaints in recent years is abysmal and there has been a huge decline in recent years of people even trying to use the process. It seems that people with mental health disabilities or who are homeless stand virtually no chance of making a successful complaint and are therefore quite vulnerable to potential abuse.
Knowing some of the challenges when I joined the commission two years ago, I decided that I would focus on the policy side of things. Sadly, that function has also been greatly diminished. With the city’s subscription to the Lexipol service, the entire binder of General Orders for the BPD is being rewritten in order to reduce the chances of liability and to further insulate police from accountability. With this massive revision, whole groups of General Orders are being approved by the PRC with almost no chance of citizen input or public participation. With NO communication with the general public, policies on the use of spit hoods, canines, tasers, and other dramatic changes are being considered and rubber-stamped. These policies are remaking the culture of the BPD while disregarding previous decades of collaborations with outside experts and community members in the shaping of BPD General Orders.
Finally, the inaction, lack of responsiveness and disregard by city leadership to concerns raised by the PRC is the final nail in the coffin of Berkeley’s efforts at civilian oversight. It seems that those who could require the chief to comply with requests for information, who could implement some evaluation and controls on the department, who could fight for the independence of the commission and the most basic principles of good governance have turned a blind eye to the ways in which the power of the PRC has and continues to be eroded. I believe that the PRC must fight harder for basic access to information. It must stop simply accepting the delays and diversions of the Chief and demand some answers. Sadly, the PRC has become more of an obstacle to real reform because it provides the mistaken illusion that some form of police oversight exists, while it most certainly does not.
Councilmember, I will continue to advocate for the rights of the people and community control of police. I will work to support a charter amendment that would remake how our city monitors and controls police functioning so that it functions at the pleasure of the people and is held accountable for what it does and does not do. I look forward to the day when our praise for the men and women of the department is not merely some hollow, obligatory refrain, but is a well-established and genuine acknowledgement of their commitment and excellence.