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City Council Discusses Police Drug Testing, Budget

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday June 26, 2007

To protect the community, Berkeley police officers carry guns, drive vehicles at high speeds, arrest suspects and take control of their property, including money and illicit drugs. 

Because a police officer abusing drugs might be a danger to the community, the city’s Human Resources Department wants the right to drug-test city employees, including police.  

This question will be before the council tonight (Tuesday). 


On the agenda 

The city meetings will kick off at 6 p.m. with a meeting of the Housing Authority—the old board consisting of the City Council and two tenants, rather than the new one sworn in two weeks ago. The old board will be cleaning up unfinished business, discussing the lease of office space and adding a staff position. 

Among the issues on the council agenda in addition to drug testing of employees are:  

• Voting on the final budget draft offered by the city staff and the mayor. 

• Addressing two appeals of zoning board decisions, one allowing construction of a single-family house at 161 Panoramic Way and the other, permitting the demolition of Brennan’s and Celia’s restaurants on Fourth Street, re-using the train depot for a new Brennan’s and building a commercial-residential complex on the site that will include 210 apartments.  

• A public hearing on streetlight assessments. 

• Rules on public comment at meetings. 

• A continued appeal of the proposed commercial development at Ashby and College avenues. 

The City Council meeting begins at 7 p.m.  

Last week the meeting ended at 11 p.m. sharp, leaving the issue on public comment still to be discussed and public speakers on non-agenda items without a platform to speak—speakers on non-agenda items will be permitted to speak, even if other council business ends at 11 p.m., according to the mayor’s Chief of Staff Cisco DeVries. 

The absence of notice for speakers on non-agenda items on tonight’s council agenda is an oversight, according to City Clerk Pamyla Means. 

Mayor Tom Bates says he is “experimenting” with various council formats. The prompt end of last week’s meeting was among the newer ideas he has introduced. DeVries said on Monday that the 11 p.m. cut-off rule will likely continue at Tuesday’s meeting. 


Drug testing cops 

The Human Resources staff has placed a measure on the agenda asking the council to rescind the city prohibition against drug and alcohol testing of employees.  

This would give city contract negotiators the ability to go to the council in closed session and get direction on what to do when there is “reasonable suspicion” of drug use, when there has been an “accident causing serious bodily injury,” or when there has been a “use of force causing serious bodily injury,” according to the item that will come before the council.  

Human Resources Director David Hodgkins told the Daily Planet on Monday that once the part of the law prohibiting the city from drug-testing employees has been removed by a vote of the council, he will be able to negotiate with the labor unions on questions of testing. The fire and police contracts are currently in negotiation. 

If the council removes the prohibition, however, he will have to discuss the matter with the councilmembers behind closed doors. The question to be decided in closed session would be the impact a positive drug test would have on the discipline of an officer—for example, there could be counseling, suspension or termination.  

The case of the police officer who pled guilty last year to stealing drugs from the evidence room was among the issues that triggered the call to institute a drug-testing policy, Hodgkins said. 

Currently, if a manager or supervisor “observes behavior or appearance in an employee that is characteristic of drug use or alcohol misuse, the supervisor or manager cannot send the employee for a mandatory drug or alcohol test,” with the exception of operators of certain large equipment that come under federal regulation. 

Andrea Pritchett of Berkeley Copwatch said she welcomes a drug-testing policy for police, but cautions that the critical question in the case of Cary Kent, the former police sergeant who pled guilty to stealing drugs from the evidence room, was that his job performance, according to colleagues and supervisors interviewed in the criminal investigation, had been in decline for perhaps two years and supervisors and colleagues did not formally report it. 

Pritchett also said she fears that “by lifting the prohibition, all city employees could be tested. It could be an intrusion.” 

Many other police departments do drug testing under various circumstances, including Oakland, Boston, Los Angeles and New York.  

New York and Los Angeles dismiss officers after a first positive drug test, according to a July 30, 2006 Boston Globe story. Boston officers who test positive for drugs get a 45-day suspension during which they must get treatment. When they return to work, they are subject to random testing, as well as the annual test officers must take within 30 days of their birthdays. 

The Oakland Police Department spokesperson was unable to give the Daily Planet details of the city’s testing policy. 


Budget vote expected 

Responding to community pressure and the requests of council colleagues, Mayor Tom Bates, in a budget proposal released on Friday, has added several items to the list of social service spending that he had released last week. They include: 

• $25,000 in start-up funding for Young Aspirations Young Artists (YA YA) California. 

• $15,000 in funding to Berkeley Youth Living with Disabilities to fund a budget gap. 

• $10,000 to the Malcolm X Neighborhood Arts Collaborative for a five-year strategic plan. 

• $3,000 for Berkeley Boosters to develop a corporate sponsorship plan. 

• $13,000 to restore the reduction in the Berkeley Drop-in Center contract. 

• $12,000 to restore the reduction in the Lifelong Acupuncture Detox program. 

• $15,000 for case management services at University Avenue Homes, the site of low income housing where there was a recent homicide. 

• $10,000 to enhance the Lifelong Medical Care Social Worker program service for chronically homeless individuals. 

Funds will come from taking $100,000 in additional funds from those available through transfer taxes (slated to be spent on infrastructure), which will total $1.5 million in Bates’ budget additions. He is also freeing up funds by recommending that the Civic Arts Coordinator position that was to be cut to half-time in 2009 be restored with funds from the mid-year budget in February 2008.  

Bates’ budget continues to recommend $377,000 for engineering/planning needs, $225,00 for a transportation planner, $85,000 to increase the West Berkeley Planner to full time, $50,000 for a person to write laws for his Public Commons for Everyone Initiative and other social service needs as previously recommended.  


Rules for public comment 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington introduced an item last week to regulate public comment, something that the mayor has been experimenting with for much of the year, in response to a lawsuit threatened by Berkeleyans Organizing for Library Defense (SuperBOLD). The item was introduced, but not discussed, when the meeting abruptly ended at 11 p.m. The item is also scheduled toward the end of the council meeting Tuesday and, if the meeting ends at 11 p.m., may once again remain unaddressed.  

Bates is planning to introduce his own finalized rules for public comment July 17, the last meeting of the council year, according to DeVries. 


Wright’s Garage 

An appeal of the proposed development at Ashby and College avenues, turned down by the council two weeks ago, remains on the agenda for a month, allowing councilmembers to change their votes. This item is the last scheduled item on the agenda.