Berkeley’s Police Review Commission sustained just two allegations of misconduct in 2018, and one was later overturned on appeal, according to the PRC’s annual report.
Community members filed 13 complaints against Berkeley police in 2018, the lowest number in the past five years. The complaints themselves are confidential, but the PRC releases statistics about them every year.
The PRC closed, dismissed or rejected 10 complaints in 2018 (including some from the prior year) and held a hearing, called a board of inquiry, in relation to five others. Of 38 allegations made in those five complaints, 23 were not sustained and 13 were deemed to be unfounded. Two of the 38 allegations were sustained, commissioners ruled: one for discourtesy and one for improper police procedures.
But, of those two findings, one was ultimately overturned* by a state judge on appeal. The report did not identify which finding was overturned, but the judge ruled that one of them was unfounded after what’s known as a Caloca hearing. Those hearings are confidential so no additional information was available.
There were no sustained findings of excessive force or discrimination by police from 2014 through 2018, according to the report. PRC boards have not sustained an excessive force finding since 2013, when there were two.
The boards — made of three PRC members, at least two of whom must agree before a finding can be made — usually sustain just one or two allegations out of an average of about 35 each year.
Some of the allegations sustained by the PRC, however, are later overturned when reviewed by a state judge. From 2014-18, the PRC sustained seven allegations in total. Three were later overturned by a judge as unfounded or not sustained. Two others — in 2016 and 2017 — were upheld.
The report does not indicate which allegations were upheld at that time, but it appears that both may have stemmed from 2016 decisions. That year, the PRC sustained two allegations: one for discourtesy and one for improper investigation.
Over the five years covered in the report, boards of inquiry have found 84% of the allegations they’ve heard to be either not sustained or unfounded. In 8% of the allegations, officers have been exonerated. During that time, 4% of the allegations have been sustained.
Several efforts to reform Berkeley’s approach to police oversight failed in 2018, though reformers have pledged to keep working until the city or its citizens creates a new process. A ballot measure to change the city charter in relation to police oversight could come before voters in 2020.
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. The PRC complaint process is explained on the city website.
The Berkeley Police Department handled 74,087 calls for service in 2018, nearly 10% fewer than in the prior year. At the end of the year, BPD’s official tally of officers was at 159, according to the PRC report. Recent news from BPD puts that number closer to 170 now, but not all of those officers are on full, active duty.
The PRC also collects demographic data about who files complaints about Berkeley police. In 2018, seven of the complainants were white, four were black, one was Asian and one was listed as other. Seven were male and six were female, according to the report.
Three city staffers, who are part of the city manager’s office, support the PRC in various administrative and investigative roles. As of 2019, their combined salaries and benefits totalled $546,335, according to data from the city.
The Berkeley Police Department keeps its own statistics on allegations of misconduct, which include some of the reports from the PRC. According to 2018 data from BPD, its Internal Affairs (IA) division tallied 78 allegations across 38 complaints. None of the complaints filed by people outside the department were sustained.
According to department data, BPD officers used force during 13 incidents in 2018. Complaints were filed in six of those incidents. None were sustained by IA.
BPD used a non-lethal weapon in one of those incidents. All the other force officers used, according to BPD data, was physical, meaning they used their bodies but no weapon. BPD reported no instances where pepper spray, a baton or a gun were used during an arrest.
BPD has not had an officer-involved shooting since 2012.
According to BPD data, IA did sustain 11 internal complaints, which “include at-fault vehicle collisions.” No further information was immediately available.
* The annual report misstates in its summary that one allegation of misconduct was upheld on appeal. Berkeleyside asked PRC staffers about it because the section on appeals states that it was actually overturned. They confirmed the summary was in error and plan to post a correction.