In April 2006 former Berkeley Police Sgt. Cary Kent pleaded guilty to felony drug possession and grand theft charges stemming from his stealing illicit substances from the locked police evidence vault he was charged to guard.
Early this year another officer left the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) after several months of paid administrative leave, charged with stealing the possessions and cash of people he had booked. The district attorney declined to charge him.
After spending more than a year studying both incidents and looking at related police policies and practices, on Oct. 12 a Police Review Commission subcommittee released a report entitled “Police Review Commission Policy Report: Evidence Theft Within the Berkeley Police Department.” The report concludes: “The systemic failure of a department to identify and remedy major lapses in security, personnel management and administration must be addressed immediately.”
The report can be found at www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/prc.
The full Police Review Commission will discuss the report Wednesday, 7 p.m., at the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. Police Chief Douglas Hambleton will be present to respond to commissioner questions.
The commission will then finalize the report and send it to the City Council, which will be asked to approve the report and the subcommittee recommendations for changes in police policies.
The subcommittee, made up of PRC Commissioners William White, Sharon Kidd and Sherry Smith, and community members Andrea Prichett and Jim Chanin, spent more than a year reviewing the 800-page police report on the Kent case, analyzing it and conducting interviews with the police chief and auditor.
While the subcommittee had good access to the chief of police, the report notes that its investigation was constrained by the refusal of the police officers’ union to allow its officers to be questioned by the committee. “The subcommittee believes that not being able to interview officers concerning the incident was a major setback to the investigation,” the report says.
Further, the report notes difficulties the subcommittee had in obtaining various documents and information it requested. For example, it had asked for but did not receive a report on the total inventory, including quantities, of missing drug evidence. It also was unable to obtain copies of information from the database into which officers enter the quantities of drug evidence, and results of any audits on the database concerning loss of evidence in BPD’s possession.
The report underscores that the investigation is not aimed at particular officers, past or present, but targets the failure of policies and practices that would have alerted the police chain of command quickly to crimes committed within the department.
The internal police investigation shows, according to the subcommittee report, that years went by without Kent’s bosses confronting him, while fellow police officers noted that Kent looked bad, acted abnormally and failed to complete job assignments.
Among the questions driving the committee were:
• When poor job performance and health issues were noticed by fellow officers and reported to superiors, why didn’t the information go up the chain of command to the chief?
• While investigators noted there was tampering with 286 envelopes of drug evidence, why were these envelopes not weighed to see how much of the illegal substances was missing? (Many more envelopes had been tampered with than had been used to bring charges against Kent.)
The report makes more than two dozen recommendations for change in procedures and policy in the police department, many of them concerning opening records of seized property and contraband to public scrutiny.
Subcommittee member Prichett, also a member of Copwatch, underscored, however, in an interview with the Daily Planet: “No policy is going to substitute for the will of police officers to be professional.”
Among the recommendations the report makes is that BPD should hire an outside auditor to examine the database where quantities of seized drugs are recorded. “Monthly asset reports should be made public,” the report says.
The report further recommends the establishment of a workgroup that would include staff from the city manager, auditor, finance and police departments that would reconcile the quantity of seized assets with deposits into accounts, tracking individual cases including the status of court proceedings “to promote consistency and to enable members of the public whose assets have been wrongly seized to recover their assets with due process and efficiency.”
Relating specifically to the Kent case, the report recommends that the department identify the exact quantity of drugs missing from the evidence room. It also recommends replacing officers who have current access to the evidence room who also had access to the evidence when Kent did.
In addition, the report calls on police to revise the “early warning system,” which identifies problem officers early on and bars officers, when possible, from supervising family members or personal friends.
Procedures should be developed mandating the reporting by officers of fellow officers they suspect of misconduct or drug abuse, the report says, recommending as well that drug-testing policies for officers be developed and implemented.
Berkeley police adopted new operating procedures for the evidence room after an investigation by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, related to the Cary Kent case.
The report recommends that the police chief report regularly to the City Council on its implementation.