PRC Meets with Council in Closed Session Monday

By Judith Scherr
Friday November 24, 2006

The Berkeley City Council and Police Review Commission will meet behind closed doors on Monday to discuss a Berkeley Police Association lawsuit against the city, although the requirement for a closed session meeting is disputed by a least one councilmember. 

On Nov. 14 Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith took the case under submission and is yet to rule. At issue is whether Berkeley’s police complaint hearings will be held in public, as they were for some 30 years. 

The joint meeting, preceded by a public comment period, will be at 5 p.m. on the sixth floor of the administration building, 2180 Milvia St. 

The lawsuit pits the BPA against the city, with the police arguing that Police Review Commission public hearings on complaints against the police is illegal because police personnel records must be kept confidential. The city says that because the PRC does not discipline the police, its complaint hearings should be open to the public. 

The city attorney closed the PRC hearings on police complaints in September, following a state Supreme Court case, similar to the BPA case, that addressed the confidentiality of police discipline records.  

The public notice of Monday’s closed session provides only the name of the case to be discussed, without further information. City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque was out of the office and unavailable Tuesday and Wednesday to further explain why the council and commission were meeting in executive session. 

PRC Officer Victoria Urbi, who staffs the PRC, said she had not been informed of why the session had been called, but believed it was “to give us advice on what to do in the meantime.” 

The choices could include re-opening the hearings, continuing to suspend the hearings, or holding closed-door hearings. If that is what is to be discussed, said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the meeting should be held in public. 

“The public knows the strengths and weaknesses of the various options—they have a pretty intelligent analysis,” Worthington said. 

Discussing it in closed session is a policy call. “The city should err on the side of keeping the meeting open,” he said, arguing further that the hearings never should have been closed without a public discussion and vote of the City Council.