Berkeley City Council to consider police use of force issues

BERKELEY, Calif. (KTVU and wires) -- The Berkeley City Council will consider a broad range of police-related issues at its meeting Tuesday night stemming from massive sustained protests late last year against police killings of unarmed black men.

Action items on the agenda include creating a policy for police use of body cameras for officers and dash cameras for patrol cars, temporarily banning the use of tear gas and less-lethal munitions and opening an investigation into the police response to protests in December.

More broadly, the council will also consider a statement of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, which swept the country after grand jury decisions not to indict police officers who killed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York.

The items are all sponsored by Councilman Jesse Arreguin, who said Tuesday he thinks Berkeley police crowd control policies were broken in protests on Dec. 6.

Police deployed tear gas on crowds of protesters about 90 minutes into the protests that day as protesters smashed the windows of a Trader Joe's store on University Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Over several hours that night, there were numerous reports of vandalized windows, injuries to police and protesters, and continued use of tear gas and batons. Protesters alleged that police used force indiscriminately on crowds of peaceful protesters.

Arreguin is calling for an investigation from the city's Police Review Commission -- comprised of representatives chosen by the mayor and City Council -- to look into whether the department followed its existing crowd control policies and recommend potential changes to the policies.

In the meantime, Arreguin is calling for the temporary ban of tear gas, less-lethal projectiles and over-the-shoulder baton strikes during protests until the investigation is complete. In an interview Tuesday, Arreguin said he thinks tear gas and projectiles should be banned from crowd control situations altogether.

"Tear gas is prohibited in warfare, why should it be used in crowd control?" Arreguin said. "You can't even use it in the streets of Fallujah but you can use it in Berkeley to manage a demonstration. I think there's a real problem there."

He pointed out that other municipalities in the country, including San Francisco, have banned the use of tear gas, but still can effectively manage large crowds and protests.

In an effort to better the crowd control policies, the review commission will also review crowd control policies in effect in Oakland and San Francisco.

"We don't want to create a chilling effect, we don't want to say you can protest but you're putting your own safety at risk," Arreguin said. "We have embraced protests as a way to advocate for social causes. Protest is in our DNA in Berkeley, we shouldn't allow police to use these tactics to create a chilling effect."

The investigation will not, however, review the actions of individual officers for possible discipline. Officers can only be disciplined by the department itself, which is conducting its own investigation, Arreguin said.

He said he also supports the larger goals of the protests, which include taking steps to improve police accountability, curbing the militarization of local police departments, taking steps to end racial profiling and encouraging community-based alternatives to incarceration.

A proposed resolution in support of the movements growing out of the death of Michael Brown by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson last year also includes calling on the Alameda County District Attorney's Office to broaden its policy on investigating in-custody deaths.

It calls for an independent investigation into all in-custody deaths.

The council will also consider directing the city manager's office to devise a policy requiring all officers to wear body-worn cameras and all police cars to be equipped with dashboard cameras.

Equipping officers with body-worn cameras is a step that has been touted by the Obama Administration, including recently at a forum by Attorney General Eric Holder on police-community relations in Oakland.

However, whether body cameras can truly be effective in improving accountability and transparency for police officers has been called into question, most recently in the case of 38-year-old Yuvette Henderson, who was shot and killed last week by two Emeryville police officers, one of whom forgot to turn his body camera on until after the shooting.

But according to Oakland city officials, that Police Department has seen a decline in police use of force as it has phased in body-worn cameras over the last several years.