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Police Review Commission missed its opportunity

Bob Jacobsen Berkeley
Tuesday January 15, 2002



Last week, the Berkeley Police Review Commission recommended that Berkeley not cooperate with Department of Justice requests to interview individuals in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. The commission has oversimplified this issue, and in the process has missed an opportunity to make a positive contribution. 

The Sept. 11 attacks are changing how the United States approaches its security. Doing that while respecting civil liberties and the rule of law involves hard choices. The new balance that emerges over the next year will be with us for a long time, and as a country we need to get it right. By focusing on only one side of this issue, the Police Review Commission has effectively thrown away any chance of having a constructive influence. 

When similar questions arose at the university, the faculty representatives made a quite different statement: 

In response to the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act and other political authorities are taking additional steps with the goal of enhancing the security of the United States. These steps, intended to protect, have caused concern amongst some of our students, especially our international students, who fear that their records may be requested. We are deeply concerned for our students and we are attentive to any activities that may infringe on their civil liberties and academic freedom. 

Civil liberties and academic freedom are vital to a university. But the freedoms of individuals are not absolute. Heavily weighted though they must be, civil liberties and academic freedom must be balanced against other important principles such as national security.  

Striking the perfect balance between civil liberties and academic freedom and the desire to improve internal security is an enduring, complex and difficult challenge. 

The faculty statement goes on to propose a group to address the difficult details of achieving this balance. Berkeley needs to adopt a similar approach of coming to grips with these hard questions of balance. The City Council should insist that the Police Review Commission do so.  


Bob Jacobsen