The Police Review Commission sustained no findings of misconduct across 22 complaints against Berkeley police officers in 2017, according to the latest report from the PRC.
The report, approved Oct. 24 with minimal discussion by the PRC, looks at five years of complaint data, including how many complaints were received, types of complaints, and how those complaints were resolved. There’s also data on the demographics of complainants, how many “Board of Inquiry” hearings the PRC convened, and whether any of the PRC findings were later overturned on appeal.
In 2017, the Berkeley Police Department handled 81,713 calls for service, which “includes phone calls to BPD requesting service, calls resulting from an officer personally observing a situation requiring service, and direct contacts to BPD by a person requesting help,” according to the report.
Twenty-two complaints about individual officers came into the PRC during the calendar year, along with three complaints about BPD policies. The numbers were typical for the PRC, which averaged about 20 officer complaints and two policy complaints a year from 2013-17.
Last year, eight of the complaints went on to a “Board of Inquiry” hearing, where three PRC members are impaneled to hear testimony and make findings. Not all cases go before this type of board, however. If a complaint was not filed by the deadline, or if a complainant doesn’t cooperate, among other reasons, the case could be closed administratively. And some cases go to mediation instead.
In the past five years, the most common allegations heard by boards of inquiry were in the categories of improper arrest, search, seizure, or stop/detention (22%), excessive force (20%), improper police procedures (19%), discourtesy (13%), and discrimination (12%). Each complaint that goes to a Board of Inquiry generally involves multiple allegations of various types of misconduct.
In 2017, within the eight cases that went to a Board of Inquiry, there were 10 allegations of excessive force, five each of discourtesy and discrimination, and four each of improper procedure or improper arrest, search, seizure, or stop/detention.
Among those cases, 15 allegations were listed as “not sustained”; 11 were deemed to be unfounded; three were described as exonerated; and two were summarily dismissed. The PRC defines the “not sustained” finding as one where “the evidence fails to support the allegation, however it has not been proven false.”
2017 was the only year, over the five years reviewed in the report, where no allegations of misconduct were sustained.
The PRC has not sustained an excessive force finding since 2013, when it sustained two of them.
Over the five years covered in the report, the board sustained about two of 33 allegations annually. Many of the allegations sustained by the PRC, however, are later overturned when reviewed by a state judge. From 2013-17, the PRC sustained 10 allegations in total. Six were later reclassified by a judge, after what’s known as a Caloca hearing, as exonerated, unfounded or not sustained.
In addition to the Police Review Commission itself, the panel has three staff members who are part of the city manager’s office. They comprise the PRC officer, who oversees the daily operations and needs of the PRC; the PRC investigator; and an office worker. They made nearly $500,000 in 2017 in total pay and benefits, according to Transparent California.
Several efforts to reform Berkeley’s approach to police oversight failed this year, though reformers have pledged to keep working until the city or its citizens creates a new process. Some community members have said the number of complaints the PRC receives is so low because people either do not know how to make complaints, or are afraid to do so.
At a recent City Council meeting to discuss crime statistics, Councilwoman Cheryl Davila said she’s heard from numerous people of color and people who are unhoused who say they aren’t comfortable making complaints about police because they fear repercussions. She said she’d like to see a “performance audit” about how officers are spending their time. Her appointee on the Police Review Commission, Berkeley Copwatch co-founder Andrea Prichett, has called repeatedly for that audit, too.
Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood told Davila it’s important that all complaints are documented so he can look into them in a timely manner to ensure problems are addressed. He said having all the interactions recorded on body cameras — which officers began wearing in October — should also make a big difference.
The Berkeley Police Department keeps its own statistics on allegations of misconduct, which include some of the data from the PRC. According to 2017 data from BPD, Internal Affairs tallied 128 allegations across 51 complaints. Of the 25 sustained allegations, 20 were for improper procedure, one was for discourtesy and one was for harassment. Three of the sustained allegations were listed only as “other.”