Public Comment

Coalition for a Safe Berkeley urges City Council to protect immigrant’s rights in Berkeley, applauds steps towards police accountability

From Diana Bohn, Coalition for a Safe Berkeley
Friday September 21, 2012 - 10:11:00 AM

This Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council approved final wording on the majority of revisions to several Berkeley Police Department (BPD) policies and external agreements. This package addressed mutual aid, memorandums of understanding, surveillance, intelligence activities, grants for police equipment, and how Berkeley will handle detainer requests from ICE. The Council voted on all issues except detainers.  

The Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, a diverse coalition of community organizations that has led a police accountability campaign over the last year, applauded many of the changes, while emphasizing that they did not fully address the community’s concerns. Public comment, along with recommendations from the ACLU of Northern California and a lively discussion of the issues by City Council, led to improvements in some of the policies. 

Included in the changes were ground-breaking limitations on so-called “Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR)”. Unlike other jurisdictions nationwide, Berkeley now requires that there be at least reasonable suspicion of criminal activity in order to submit SARs to the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, a fusion center that collects and stores intelligence with few privacy or constitutional safeguards. The new policy also provided for some review of SARs via the city manager, although the Coalition emphasized that there should be more civilian oversight.  

The updated policy on Mutual Aid encourages BPD to neither request nor provide mutual aid in situations where there is no threat to public safety and requires an annual report on each mutual aid request. Coalition members pointed out that while language increases transparency, it also allows for significant discretion by the police department. Like the new SAR policy, the criminal intelligence policy also increased the level of suspicion required to deploy plainclothes officers, and exempted non-violent civil disobedience from intelligence gathering activities.  

The Council also approved a resolution that will require City Council review of all Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant requests. The community questioned the rationale for the City Manager’s suggestion that only contracts over $50,000 be disclosed and as a result, the Council voted to require that all contracts be disclosed to it.  

Sharon Adams, the National Lawyers Guild representative on the Coalition, said “It’s been a long process, and the Berkeley City Council made a step in the right direction, but it’s not the last step, it’s the first.” While these changes were positive, implementation and oversight will require vigilance. The Coalition will monitor the BPD’s practice to ensure that the policy changes won on Tuesday are not merely empty promises. The Coalition is also looking forward to the Council’s next meeting for a resolution of the one issue not voted on last night: whether Berkeley will comply with requests for immigration holds from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  

Community members expressed compelling concerns about the jail detainer policy suggested by the City Manager. Although the Council had directed that the Santa Clara policy be reviewed and modified as needed for Berkeley, the policy presented for voting did not mirror that policy, and no reasonable explanation was given for the differences. The suggested policy omitted a prohibition on honoring holds for minors, as well as a requirement that the federal government provide reimbursement for the cost of carrying out any hold request. As Adams pointed out, “Berkeley needs to stand by its status as a sanctuary city and protect the civil rights of all community members.” The Coalition speakers stressed to the Council that the proposed policy did not do justice to the immigrant community. The Coalition activists, strengthened by the ACLU’s recommendation, did win one important change: The police chief agreed to remove a provision honoring hold requests for individuals arrested for- but not convicted of or charged with- violent or serious felony offenses. 

The Council agreed to hold over the jail detainer policy until their October 2nd meeting. Claudia Banegas, of FMLN Berkeley, said, “For a moment, the legal arguments and public comments appeared to persuade the Council. At other times, particularly when Chief Meehan spoke, the Council seemed puzzled. At this moment, it is impossible to determine how Council will vote on the Jail Detainers policy. Still, our position is that we demand (not ask), for we are no victims seeking assistance: the complete discontinuation of Secure Communities!" Several of the Council members, especially Linda Maio and Laurie Capitelli, seemed concerned with the deference shown by the City Manager’s proposal to the immigration authorities. Capitelli asked why we have any cooperation with ICE at all, and said that we seem to be creating two different standards of rights, one for citizens and one for non-citizens. Maio stated her concern about turning minors over to ICE under any circumstances. The Coalition calls on community members to communicate their support for a total ban on BPD collaboration with detainer requests, and in particular for the protection of minors from deportation, in keeping with Berkeley’s Sanctuary principle.