Police release redacted reports on Berkeley protests

After denying a Public Records Act request from a local police watchdog group, the department responded with heavily redacted documents.
After denying a Public Records Act request from a local police watchdog group, the department responded with heavily redacted documents.

The Berkeley Police Department has released two operational plans about protests in the city Dec. 6-7, but most of the wording was blacked out and redacted, so minimal information was revealed.

Andrea Prichett, co-founder of Berkeley Copwatch, requested the documents as part of two Public Records Act requests in December and January. The police department initially said the plans were exempt from release. In response to a second request from Prichett, the department provided the plans, but removed information it said related to security procedures and intelligence information.

According to a police department letter to Prichett on Jan. 26, “The disclosure of such documents could endanger public and officer safety and impede the success of future operations. Additionally, the operational plans and related documents are exempt under the ‘deliberative process privilege’ of Government Code 6255 because disclosure could have a chilling effect on the ability of the department and its command staff to candidly discuss, plan for, and respond to events requiring crowd control that are often fluid in nature.”

Read complete Berkeley protests coverage on Berkeleyside.


Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan has said the department is working on its own comprehensive report about the protests. Meehan told the city’s Police Review Commission in January that the report would be released later this year, “in an un-redacted fashion so everybody will have a chance to read what we knew when we knew it, and what we believe can be done differently in the future to hopefully end up with a different result.”

The two documents released to Prichett — who shared them with Berkeleyside — came in a very different form, however. In a 13-page “Incident Briefing” about a march planned for Dec. 6, 2014, about eight of the pages were blacked out. The department left visible the names of officers who had leadership roles, including Capt. Erik Upson, who was the incident commander that night, a summary regarding known plans that had been posted on social media about the Dec. 6 demonstration, and a general two-paragraph mission statement about how it would handle crowd control.

Police have released minimal information about their plans for Berkeley protests in December.
Police have released limited information about their plans for Berkeley protests in December.

There were four incident objectives listed, which included monitoring the entirety of the protest; traffic control; and the arrest of individuals involved in criminal or violent behavior. Police noted that dispersal orders would be given to the entire crowd, and that officers would give protesters “a reasonable amount of time” to leave, and a way out. Priorities listed were life safety, incident stabilization and property protection, in that order. (See the Dec. 6 report.)

The Dec. 7 report, which briefly reviewed the previous night’s march, contained 12 pages, about eight of which were blacked out. That document, too, included the names of officers assigned to various roles, including incident commander Capt. Andrew Greenwood; a brief summary of the prior night’s protest; and known plans for the Dec. 7 march.

In a short narrative about the march the previous night, police wrote that “Over 500 protestors attended and marched around the city, and into Oakland and back. There was commercial store looting, vandalism, arson, assaults and batteries on officers and automobiles.” Police did not write about their decision to use force — including tear gas, baton strikes and rubber bullets — on members of the crowd who did not disperse from Telegraph Avenue the prior night.


(In January, a city staffer for the Police Review Commission said just one use of force complaint had been filed with the city for activities during the December protests. Since then, two more complaints have been filed, both requesting a review of police policies on staging on residential streets and its impact on residents. The commission has launched an investigation into police actions during the demonstrations, and the Berkeley City Council is slated to consider whether to launch its own independent investigation Tuesday night.)

In the Dec. 7 report, police listed seven objectives during the protest. In addition to those listed the prior night, police also said that “field forces” should remain as mobile and flexible as possible; that they should “use swift movement and maneuvering to avoid being a fixed target”; and that they should “keep situational awareness of the moving crowd, but avoid being a direct target for the crowd to focus.” (See the Dec. 7 report.)

Berkeley Police Department Sgt. Chris Stines hurt his knee during the Dec. 6 protest. Photo: BPD
Berkeley Police Department Sgt. Chris Stines hurt his knee during the Dec. 6 protest. Photo: BPD

The prior night, police had previously reported injuries to several officers that resulted when some members of the crowd hurled a sandbag, an ice pick and a crowbar, in addition to other projectiles, at police. One officer’s shoulder was dislocated as a result, in addition to other injuries.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, officers kept their distance for most of the night, as some members of the demonstration smashed windows and lit fires throughout the city during a march that lasted late into the night. Many members of the crowd were peaceful, but one looter smashed a man in the face with a hammer, and police have said he may have been part of a group that shot into the window of a local resident when confronted about stolen property, and committed an armed robbery during the march.

The same night, paramedics waited more than 20 minutes for a police escort before responding to a man in a medical crisis who later died. Berkeley Fire Chief Gil Dong told Berkeleyside his paramedics followed standing department protocol not to send out firefighters during protests without a police escort.


In an email to Meehan sent by Prichett on Tuesday, Feb. 10, she wrote that the community should not have to wait for weeks or months to know more about what took place in December.

“I was provided with a heavily redacted document that provides almost no actual information about how the BPD [Berkeley Police Department] planned for the protests and which agencies responded,” she wrote. “We have no information on the number of arrests, the extent of property damage, the number of officers on scene, or the assumptions that guided the police response on those nights.”

Last week, Prichett asked the department for an “After Action Report” regarding the events of Dec. 6 and 7, which is required to be prepared after crowd-control events, as outlined under the department’s General Orders.

Read the complete General Order for crowd management and control. Source: Berkeley Police Department
Read the complete General Order for crowd management and control. Source: Berkeley Police Department

Public safety business manager Lynne Olesen responded Tuesday to Prichett to explain that there will be no After Action Report — “To avoid staff doing redundant work” — because “The post incident review we are conducting will be more comprehensive than a typical after action report.” That review is slated to be complete “within several months.”

In an email to the chief on Tuesday, Prichett asked for a reconsideration of that decision, and again requested the creation of an After Action Report: “This does not preclude a more detailed report being created later, but having to wait months or even longer … is a violation of the public trust and our right to understand how police in our city are being deployed, briefed and lead (sic).”

Related:
Exclusive: 23-minute delay for paramedics during Berkeley protests, patient later died (02.05.15)
Citizen panel on police to launch Berkeley protests probe (01.20.15)
Berkeley town hall examines race, police relations (01.18.15)
Residents air concerns about police staging to Police Review Commission (01.15.15)
For black students at UC Berkeley, protests are about Ferguson — and their own lives (01.15.15)
The lowdown: Council on Berkeley protests and police relations, zoning board appeals (01.13.15)
Berkeley Police Q&A: Tear gas use, protest costs, more (01.08.15)

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