Police Review Board May Resume Officer Hearings

Emma Radovich covers crime and courts. Contact her at [email protected]

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After a one-month suspension of hearings, the Berkeley Police Review Commission may now decide to resume business after meeting with the Berkeley City Council last night.

Following a Aug. 31 California Supreme Court decision which stated that all police officer personnel records must be kept private without officer consent, city officials ordered the commission to cease hearings dealing with allegations of officer misconduct.

City Manager Phil Kamlarz consented to postponing review commission hearings earlier this month based on the advice of City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque. The city is currently in litigation with the Berkeley Police Association, the local police department's equivalent of a union, about the meetings.

The association sued the city in 2002, saying the commission's procedures and public hearings violated state confidentiality laws. Under the high court's new ruling, the association argues that the commission's investigations must be kept private.

The Supreme Court case concerned a San Diego newspaper company that sued for information regarding disciplinary actions taken against a San Diego police officer.

The Berkeley Police Association recently made a motion for a possible immediate summary judgment in December, but association representatives could not be reached for comment.

The Police Review Commission discussed the Supreme Court decision in the closed meeting last night and how it may affect the current suit.

Former commission member David Ritchie said the issue in the Supreme Court decision does not apply to Berkeley's commission because the San Diego case concerned disciplinary matters and the Berkeley commission does not have any disciplinary power.

All disciplinary action related to police officers is already confidential in Berkeley, but currently the review commission's investigation records about officer misconduct are public, Albuquerque said.

The city plans to counter the association's suit vigorously, but there have been no court hearings so far, Albuquerque said.

Ritchie said the Supreme Court's decision was poorly written and unclear as to whether the court was making generalized comments or implying law.

The commission will likely go back to holding hearings after last night's discussion, Ritchie said. However, if the commission decides to resume public hearings, the city will likely still have to face the association's suit.

In a public comment period prior to yesterday's closed meeting, several community members came forward to support continued open commission hearings.

Berkeley Copwatch member Andrea Pritchett called for the immediate re-establishment of hearings and said if the commission decides not to continue public hearings, they should be able to continue without having to include police officer representatives in their meetings.

"We cannot lose that public forum," she said.

Berkeley's Police Review Commission, created in 1973 by city voters, was the first of its kind in the nation and has been a model for civilian review commissions in the United States and Europe, according to commission member Bill White.


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