Police Review Board to Give Report on Reforms

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The university's Police Review Board is expected to deliver its first public, annual report tonight, which includes an account of reforms intended to strengthen the oversight body's independence.

Previously, the board functioned primarily to hear appeals from citizens unsatisfied with UC Police Department decisions on complaints. The report, however, outlines the board's pursuit of several procedural reforms over the past academic year, its review of appeals and a discussion of issues central to the board's future.

The report also recounts some "disturbing" interactions between police and civilians in the past year. Within its own pre-reform review process, the board has been unable to substantiate community concerns that in some instances, civilians may be deterred from complaining about police misconduct, according to the report.

"The board has seen at least two cases involving officer responses to complaints that seemed inappropriate, either because they were excessively discouraging or because they had undertones of retaliation," it states.

The proposed reforms, submitted to Vice Chancellor Horace Mitchell a year ago, had three goals: strengthen the board's hearing and review process, create an audit role for the board and enhance its relationship to the community.

When the reforms are finalized, presumably at the end of the 2000-01 academic year, the board will likely be able to request further inquiry and conduct independent investigations of cases within its jurisdiction; require sworn UC police officers who are the focus of an investigation to meet with an investigator and testify at board hearings in cases where the rules allow the board to conduct investigations or hold hearings; hold public meetings; and publish an annual report. Furthermore, the reforms have already exposed members to some police training, practices and policies.

Many of these reforms, some of which have been phased in over the past academic year, stem in part from criticisms of the board that Mitchell considered worth examination and in part from its own experience, particularly the extensive "Sproul Hall hearings" according to Stephen Bundy, a UC Berkeley law professor and the board's chair.

Those hearings focused on a 1997 incident during which student demonstrators protesting Proposition 209 clashed with police in Sproul Hall, and were the focus of the final reform report submitted to Mitchell, who did not return phone calls yesterday.

Ensuing reports set forth a trio of general aims for civilian police review: to monitor and improve police behavior, to provide a justified basis for increased trust between the community and police, and to ensure a fair hearing process for complainants and officers. "The current structure (of UC Berkeley's board) does not achieve those aims and probably can never do so," one report stated.

Although views on whether the police used a proper amount of force during the protest differ, one university official decided something had to be done. Mitchell ordered a procedural review, but, according to board members, did not specify a particular outcome. After consulting with community members, UC police and the University Police Officers Association, the board came up with various proposals that are chronicled in a series of reports, including the most recent one.

While several of the reforms have already been implemented, law enforcement officials have said that the board's old structure allowed it to monitor the department's complaint process successfully.

"We didn't really think there was anything broken," said UC police Capt. Bill Cooper. Adding that most of the reforms have been "minor," Cooper said some officers objected to some of the proposals, in particular compelled officer testimony.

Still, this past academic year marked the expansion of the board's audit function - bringing the board broader jurisdiction and its members more information with respect to the "problematic encounters" between police and civilians. The board's review of the complaint process prompted several recommendations, among them improved record keeping of civilian inquiries and further steps to monitor and improve interactions between possible complainants and police.

Some Highlights of the Police Review Board's Implemented Reform Measures

- Board members should receive annual exposure to UC police training, practices and policies, especially policies governing the use of force and the investigation of civilian complaints.

- In each case where the board conducts a review, investigation or hearing under specified conditions, it should prepare a written report on its review. This report should be made available to the Vice Chancellor of Business and Administration, the UC Police Department, the officer who is the subject of said investigation or hearing and the complainant. Such a report should protect the privacy rights of involved officers in compliance with relevant laws and university policy.

- The board should hold regular public meetings, fall and spring, to review pending issues of importance to the public, and to receive input from all concerned constituencies.

- The board should prepare and publish an annual report, containing an account of UC Police Department and Police Review Board complaint activity for the preceding year, tracking trends over time, and making policy recommendations where necessary and appropriate. The report should be appropriately distributed to interested organizations and citizens, both in print media and online.


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