Judge Rules Police Review Body Must Resume Work

Contact Jessica Kwong at [email protected]

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Berkeley’s police oversight agency must resume officer misconduct hearings and close them both to citizens who file the complaints and the general public, a judge ruled Friday.

Originally open to the public, the Police Review Commission’s investigative hearings were first ordered closed in February after an Alameda Country judge ruled in favor of a police union’s lawsuit.

In response to the decision, city officials filed an appeal several months ago and hoped to continue postponing hearings until it was resolved.

But on Friday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch said the hearings—suspended since Aug. 2006—must continue, though privately instead of publically.

In addition, he denied the city’s request to allow residents who file misconduct complaints to attend the

private hearings.

“We feel it would be only be fair to allow the complainant to be in the hearing room,” said Victoria Urbi, a Berkeley Police Review Commission officer.

The commission has not heard any cases since August. It has 10 cases lined up, according to Urbi.

“We will be continuing our hearings sometime in October and it looks like they will be closed until we can get the appeal resolved through the court,” she said.

For more than 20 years, the commission has reviewed citizen complaints of officer misconduct. It forwards its findings to the city manager, who may then choose to pursue disciplinary measures.

In their appeal of the ruling that closed hearings to the public, city officials argue the commission is not legally part of the disciplinary process because it does not recommend or enforce punishments.

“We are appealing that decision because the city believes we are not involved in the disciplinary process,” Urbi said. “All we do is sustain or not sustain cases.”

So far, the court has agreed with the the Berkeley Police Association that the commission plays a large enough role in discipline that hearings legally must be closed.

“I don’t think the city is going to succeed in the appeal,” said Alison Berry Wilkinson, an association attorney. “The law is that clear.”

The Berkeley Police Association sued the city in 2002 to make hearings confidential. In Aug. 2006, the ruling in a state supreme court case shut down similar oversight bodies throughout the state.

According to Wilkinson, the decision in Copley Press v. Superior Court of San Diego County directly affected the outcome of the suit against the Police Review Commission because it determined that the law establishing confidentiality for police records applies to the commission.

“Berkeley is the only agency that didn’t stop altogether, but was temporarily suspended,” Urbi said.

Andrea Pritchett, a founding member of the community group Copwatch, said she was disappointed by Friday’s decision.

“City council needs to provide a way for the citizens of Berkeley to ensure that their police department is acting in support of the community,” she said.


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