Police Prohibit Open Dialogue On Parking

L.A. Wood is a Berkeley resident. Respond at [email protected]

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The debate over controlled neighborhood parking took an abrupt turn last week when police officers affiliated with the Berkeley Police Association appeared at the City Council chambers to lobbyfor parking access at the Civic Center ("Police Seek Immediate Parking Relief," Oct. 19). The action marks one of those rare mo-ments when the association's rank-and-file have publicly de-monstrated.

As city em-ployees, police officers have evey right to demonstrate. And there was nothing wrong with them chanting, "What do we want? Parking! When do we wnat it? Now!" However, when shouting officers, and in particular the president of the Berkeley Police, target local neighborhood activists at the council, it raises questions about proper police conduct. To publicly single out particular resdients as the source of their parking woes, was not only shortsighted, but unprofessional.

Berkeley officers should realize that their parking ticket woes are to be blamed on their employer, the city of Berkeley, and not local residents. Further, most residents are in support of city employees having off-street parking at their work places. Certainly adequate parking is demanded of other large businesses in Berkeley. A decade ago, the city committed itself to reducing both its fleet size and the number of employee commuter cars when it signed onto the Clean Air Act. Throughout the 90s, Berkeley government unfortunately did nothing to address these two issues, preferring to exempt itself from any changes in this area of transportation.

Perhaps the greatest deterrent to open dialogue in a neighborhood dispute is the phrase, "I can arrest you!" This statement was repeatedly shouted by an officer as he and other Berkeley Police Association members took their demonstration outside council chambers and directed their ire at a single citizen. The officer only stopped when his conduct was challenged by some of the public who had joined in the yelling match. It is doubtful that any of those young officers stopped to consider the chilling effect such threats and actions have on public discourse and participation.

The officers in question would be quick to state that they were off-duty. Yet, when the would-be arresting officer asserted, "I can arrest you," is this officer then still off-duty? The fact is that our police officers are never off-duty. Even if officers are technically off the clock, they should never display the kind of conduct witnessed both inside and outside council. Moreover, this is an inappropriate use of one's position and should be subject to review.

Two years ago, the noted criminal lawyer John Burris spoke in Berkeley about police conduct and civilian review. He stated that the greatest asset to any officer is not the gun, baton or pepper spray, but the officer's ability to listen as well as communicate respectfully.


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