On Saturday, Berkeley’s Police Review Commission, or PRC, held a special meeting to discuss the transition to a new oversight committee, the Police Accountability Board, or PAB, for which applications are now open.
During the meeting, the PRC presented the expanded powers the PAB will hold and encouraged diversity among applicants. The commission also heard public comments from community members concerned about how racial representation of city residents will be fulfilled in the hiring process.
Moni Law, chair of the Berkeley Community Safety Coalition, raised concerns about recently displaced people of color being ineligible for the PAB because of the residency requirements. Community members also questioned whether the board’s membership will accurately represent groups historically confronted with police malpractice, including Black, Latinx and unhoused residents.
“At this point, the application process is moving forward and we as a group need to come together and figure out how we are going to make appointments (for the PAB),” said Berkeley City Councilmember Kate Harrison during the meeting. “That has not yet occurred.”
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín emphasized that the diverse representation of communities most impacted by policing will be “key” to the success of the PAB.
The city’s goal is to seat the nine-member PAB by July 1, according to Katherine Lee, PRC officer and secretary. The new board will replace the PRC, as decided by voters during the November 2020 elections.
Applicants must be at least 18 years old, a Berkeley resident and fair-minded, according to Lee. Lee noted that a criminal record will not be a barrier to appointment.
After being founded in 1973, the PRC was the first police oversight committee in the country with investigative authority, according to Nathan Mizell, PRC member and a member of the city’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force. However, Mizell noted the need for a new board.
“That power has slipped in the past and that is why we need this new board to really create important and substantive changes,” Mizell said during the meeting.
The new powers of the PAB will include participating in the hiring of the Berkeley Police Department police chief, recommending discipline in complaint investigations, complete access to records and the ability to subpoena officers.
Current PRC members said board members should expect to serve up to 16 hours per month, with a new provision compensating members up to $300 per month.
Additionally, the members encouraged residents of diverse backgrounds, including youth, to apply.
“As one of the PRC folks, I want to say it’s been a really rewarding experience, and I encourage folks to apply. You don’t have to be a lawyer,” said Michael Chang, vice chair of the PRC. Chang added that college students have held positions in the past.
Héctor Malvido, member of the PRC subcommittee on outreach, said he hopes to hold another community information meeting before the application deadline of March 22.