Berkeley’s Police Accountability Board, or PAB, met Wednesday evening to discuss the department’s staff shortage, the recent rise in sexual assault reports and the usage of audited body working cameras, or BWCs, on Berkeley police.
Interim Chief of Police Jennifer Louis reported a 25% vacancy in the department. Only 24 of 36 authorized dispatcher positions are currently staffed.
PAB Vice Chair Regina Harris then asked about the increased amount of sexual assault reports to the city during subcommittee reports. However, despite the higher number, Louis said that many of the reports were filed “post-COVID.”
“We’re seeing the numbers go up, but not with an incredible spike in crimes,” Louis said. “It’s just more people talking about it.”
Louis added that after COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed, many people began reporting sexual assault incidents that occurred several years prior. She said that it is thanks to recent movements that victims are more comfortable speaking out about their experiences.
The board then turned their attention to the city’s BWC randomized audit policy.
According to Lieutenant Jennifer A. Tate, BWC would, moving forward, become a part of the random audit process. Additionally, any time there is a “use of force” from an officer, the sergeant, watch commander and captain will all review the BWC footage.
When these audits occur, five of the force’s officers are randomly selected for review, according to board member Cheryl Owens. She alleged that given the number of working officers is currently over 100, the auditing process was “statistically insignificant.”
Harris added that the policies in the Law Enforcement Services Manual governing Berkeley police department’s BWC use do not outline procedures for review, alleging specifically that policy 425 governing BWC use had no language on audits and that policy 1300 governing BWC surveillance use policy had limited language about supervisors being able to review BWC footage.
However, Lieutenant Tate emphasized the extreme difficulty that combing through hours of body cam footage would cause.
“BWC footage is very labor intensive to go through and review,” Tate said. “The limited number of ‘use of force’ reports we get takes a considerable amount of time. It is not something that is routinely looked at.”
This prompted Harris to propose an ad hoc subcommittee specifically to review random audits for the BWCs.
Board member Julie Leftwich confirmed Harris’s BWC audit subcommittee, and suggested that in upcoming meetings that members draft prepared questions to ask the Chief before their next board meeting.
The motion for Harris to create the BWC audit subcommittee was unanimously passed by the board.
Leftwich said she will be “happy” to serve on the subcommittee, after the ad hoc was finalized.