The vote to approve the permanent appointment of Berkeley Police Department Interim Chief Jennifer Louis was postponed during a city council meeting Tuesday amid public outcry surrounding alleged misconduct within the police department.
Councilmembers moved the decision to appoint from the consent calendar to the action calendar; as the author of the item, city manager Dee Williams-Ridley withdrew it from the action calendar entirely, noting that the item will return to city council once an investigation into the allegations has been completed.
Williams-Ridley added that she’s “very confident” that the investigation will reveal that Louis had no prior knowledge of the misconduct being accused.
“Chief Louis is still the interim chief, and I also believe that ultimately the outcome of the investigation will find that she’s not aware,” Mayor Jesse Arreguín said during the meeting. “If she were aware then she would have taken immediate action to address this issue, and so I hope that the outcome of the investigation will corroborate that.”
At the start of the meeting, Alameda County public defender Brendon Woods asked city council to delay its vote confirming Louis as the permanent chief so that the accusations could be properly investigated. He noted that he doesn’t “have faith in the chief” because of the way Louis allegedly handled his complaints about how Berkeley police officers were handling calls to the juvenile Miranda hotline staffed by the Public Defender’s Office.
Woods alleged during the meeting that he sent an email to Louis on July 6, which outlined “outrageous conduct by her officers.” Such conduct included violating the rights of children within BPD custody, Woods alleged. He noted the alleged violation of Miranda rights and added that he had allegedly not received a response from her about “correcting their practices.”
“Arrest quotas, derogatory comments about unhoused people and racism have no place in policing, but they seem to be prevalent in the Berkeley Police Department and prevalent under the current leadership,” Woods alleged during the meeting.
City Councilmember Sophie Hahn said during the meeting that the “serious allegations” brought forth by Woods are new to her and requested that Woods forward corroborating details to city council. At the request of Arreguín, Woods agreed to send information to both Williams-Ridley and city council.
During a period of public comment, community members expressed outrage in response to the leaked text messages that allegedly corroborate arrest quotas, profiling and instances of animus toward unhoused people within BPD.
Several speakers advocated for the postponement of Louis’ permanent appointment until the Police Accountability Board and city council fully investigate the allegations and the possibility that Louis had possessed prior knowledge of the alleged misconduct.
“(Louis) was employed by the police department during the period of time when these alleged incidents occurred,” said Berkeley resident Kelly Hammargren during the meeting. “As an interim chief, she should know what is going on in her department.”
Responding to criticisms raised by public commenters, Arreguín noted that “people are innocent until proven guilty.” He added that he is committed to addressing the patterns of racial discrimination and discriminatory policing and noted that he is in favor of an independent investigation.