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University police need better oversight

- Copwatch
Saturday May 11, 2002

To the Editor: 

We are writing to collectively express our dismay and dissatisfaction with the lack of independent police oversight at the University of California at Berkeley. Without the active presence of an independent police review board we fear that our campus’s police officers are not being held accountable. As students and members of the community patrolled by those officers, we appeal to the duties of your office to address this 

critical situation. 

Officer conduct at demonstrations and in other recent incidents, both on campus and in the surrounding community, brings this issue of accountability to the forefront. 

The current PRB lacks even the simplest tools necessary to deal with the aforementioned incidents. With no budget, no office nor even a telephone, it is not reasonable to expect the PRB to operate effectively (even the police department's internal affairs has a budget). Without the freedom to investigate complaints against officers concurrent to any police investigation, the PRB cannot be truly independent. Without public hearings, there is no hope of accountability. The PRB, with only a single community member, fails to accurately represent the constituency served by this University's police force. The presence of a former UC officer on the PRB runs counter to the notion of independence. How is it that our University, renowned for its high academic standards and a unique liberal atmosphere, has a police review body that is so transparently impotent? 

The following changes are needed: 

— The establishment of a truly independent civilian review board that meets common sense guidelines for effective oversight (such as those enumerated by the ACLU).  

— The establishment of a “Right to Watch” policy that instructs officer to “put the least possible restrictions upon civilian observation of the police,” similar to the City of Berkeley’s policy. 

— The prohibition of the use of the choke-holds and pepper spray against demonstrators. 

These issues demand immediate attention. Officer misconduct not only undermines the public’s confidence in the department, it makes it that much harder for well-meaning officers to do their jobs.  

- Copwatch