Police Accountability Board, or PAB, member Cheryl Owens stepped down one day after Jen Louis’ appointment as the chief of Berkeley Police Department passed in a city council vote May 9.
Another member’s term ended May 10, leaving five out of nine seats on the board empty. The PAB is conducting an ongoing investigation into the alleged events that occurred during Louis’ term as interim police chief, which were revealed in a series of leaked text messages in November 2022.
“When I initially applied for this role, I believed that the city of Berkeley was dedicated to civilian oversight, given the strong support for the charter amendment that established the PAB, and what I perceived to be a collaboration between the city, the Police Union and the community,” Owens said. “However, I have since realized that there is no collaboration taking place within the city, and I no longer have confidence in the city’s commitment to civilian oversight.”
Owens said she hopes her colleagues will continue their work in fulfilling the mission the city charter has placed on the PAB.
City Councilmember Rigel Robinson mentioned that, because his proposed candidate has not fulfilled certain requirements, his seat on the board will remain empty for the time being. He added that processing a new candidate could take months.
“Until recently, I had a perfect candidate going through the background check process, but changes in her employment have resulted in her no longer planning to be a Berkeley resident due to the cost of living here, so she will no longer be eligible for the role,” Robinson said in an email. “The background check process is important, but does mean that it takes several months to make an appointment to the board.”
Director of PAB Hansel Aguilar mentioned the PAB has been in communication with the city council since November 2022 regarding the board vacancies. At the time, only two seats were vacant, which Aguilar claimed was impacting the Board’s performance of necessary duties.
The remaining PAB members are chair John Moore, vice chair Regina Harris and members Kitty Calavita and Julie Leftwich, according to Aguilar.
“There are several applicants being vetted through the procedures established by the City,” Aguilar said in an email. “Two permanent appointments are expected at the next Council meeting. The Board is committed to fulfilling their duties under the Charter.”
The PAB did not comment on how these vacancies might affect the ongoing investigation into Louis.
Owens urged the board to take the necessary steps to hold BPD accountable after she leaves.
“I sincerely hope that they will continue to work towards fulfilling the mission that the Charter has given to the Board and that they will succeed in promoting transparency and accountability in the police department,” Owens said at the board meeting. “I am grateful for the opportunity to have served the Berkeley community and contribute to this important cause.”