Opinion: Our chance to make Berkeley Police more accountable

Tonight, Berkeley City Council will discuss three items relating to police accountability. The issue, while seemingly non-controversial, has become a dividing one for Council.

Do you believe the Berkeley Police Department could be better? Do you want to see the Department held sufficiently accountable for its actions? Do you want to strengthen trust between the BPD and our community? After years of poor police accountability, the City Council is finally taking these issues into consideration. As a Berkeley resident you have the power to demand the Council take action and make police accountability a reality in our community.

On Tuesday, Oct. 31, the City Council will discuss three items relating to police accountability. The issue of police accountability, while seemingly non-controversial, has become a dividing issue for Council. Berkeley community members and students are coming together to attend Tuesday’s meeting to show Council how important these issues are to our community. By attending the meeting, you can show your support and urge the City Council not to delay these issues any longer!

Item 26 on Tuesday’s agenda focuses on enhancing the BPD’s use of force policy by requiring the BPD to report all uses of force. The item also creates a definition for use of force and requires the Department to create an annual analysis report relating to use of force. Not only will this hold the Department accountable when using force against community members, the item will also ensure that the BPD maintains greater transparency.

Item #28 addresses disparate racial treatment by the BPD. This item will direct the BPD to track yield rates and develop training programs to address disparities found through these yield rates. The BPD will finally have to address the issue of racial disparities in their practices and create practical solutions in response.

Finally, Item #29 will begin the process of writing a ballot measure to reform the Police Review Commission and give the Commission real power. This reform is long overdue and will ensure that the community can play a role in holding the Department accountable.

In 1973, the voters of Berkeley came together to create the Berkeley Police Review Commission. At that time, this was extremely progressive! The PRC would review complaints against the BPD and make policy recommendations to address ongoing problems. However, the Commission’s power is currently being limited by outdated policies and procedures. The Commission has the potential to invoke real change; we just need to give it the power to do so.

Oakland’s Police Review Commission has to power to actually fire, hire, and discipline police officers and the Police Chief. San Francisco even has greater police accountability than Berkeley. So what’s holding us back?

We finally have the opportunity to invoke real change. As members of the Berkeley community, we need to stop waiting and start taking action today.

Sahana Matthews is a Berkeley Police Review Commissioner. Isabel Reyes is an intern in the office of Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington.