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City Council Addresses Homeless, Police Behavior

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday January 29, 2008

The Berkeley City Council will be addressing the issue of people lying on sidewalks and will have its first opportunity tonight (Tuesday) to address criminal behavior in its police department following the 2006 conviction of former Sgt. Cary Kent for stealing drugs from the evidence room he supervised and the alleged theft of cash and property belonging to suspects by another officer.  

The council meeting begins at 5 p.m. with a workshop on the city’s Climate Action Plan and continues at 7 p.m. with the public commons proposal, a contract with police, a resolution calling on the governor to remove the California National Guard from Iraq, a resolution opposing attempts by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to close medical marijuana dispensaries and more. 


Public Commons 

The mayor’s Public Commons for Everyone Initiative was intended to address the needs of people with inappropriate behavior so that they would not interfere with consumers’ enjoyment of shopping. 

Part of it is an ordinance that allows police to cite people lying on the sidewalk in commercial areas. When the measure came to the City Council in December, Councilmember Linda Maio would not vote for it. 

“I was concerned with what happens to people in the middle of the night,” Maio told the Planet on Friday, explaining that she was not sure if there was adequate space in shelters for the people sleeping on the sidewalk. 

To be sure homeless people have somewhere to sleep, she and Councilmember Laurie Capitelli have written a resolution that would stop police from citing people lying on the sidewalk when there were no shelter beds available and would have the officers direct people to an available shelter bed and even give them taxi scrip to get them there.  

Maio said she was told that there are five-to-10 shelter beds available each night. 

“There’s no enforcement if there’s no bed,” she said. 

Maio said that when homeless people go to shelters, they have the opportunity of being connected to services that will eventually take them off the streets. 

Asked how the council will know if the program is working, Maio said one way would be to ask for a report on how the taxi scrip was being spent.  

Also on the council agenda is a public hearing on raising the parking meter fee from $1 per hour to $1.25 per hour This is expected to raise $1 million annually, which would be dedicated to pay for services for the people acting inappropriately. That would include keeping bathrooms open all night, renting port-a-potties and providing housing with services for 10-15 people in need. 


Addressing police behavior 

“The possibility that a sworn and armed officer was not only working while under the influence of narcotics, but that he was able to steal drugs from what should have been the most secure location in Berkeley, cast a shadow of doubt on the entire department,” says the report authored by a Police Review Commission subcommittee.  

The council will consider separate recommendations by the PRC and the police chief. While Chief Doug Hambleton agreed with most of the commisision’s recommendations for change, there are differences notably in areas where the commission is asking the chief to go further in his investigation of the missing drug evidence. 

The full amount of missing drugs is unknown. While there was tampering with 286 drug evidence envelopes, there was no measure of the quantity of drugs missing. “Without knowing the total amount of drugs missing, the possibility that the amount of missing drugs was more than what would have been required to supply one addict can not be ruled out,” the report says. 

Committee members said they wanted more investigation into the quantities of drugs in those envelopes, as they suspected that there may have been more drugs missing than one person could have consumed. 

But the chief argues in his report that more investigation is costly and that the criminal—Kent—was apprehended, convicted and served his time, based on just a few envelopes with drugs missing that were fully investigated.  

The PRC report recaps the Cary Kent case, noting that 21 officers had observed that Kent had problems such as having a “sallow look,” being “withdrawn,” appearing “disheveled,” being “extremely talkative” and exhibiting “erratic” behavior. Twelve officers complained of Kent’s tardiness or missing appointments when he was responsible for bringing drug evidence to court, the report says.  

Despite this and other suspicious behavior, “the chief was never informed and did not suspect any drug abuse until November of 2005,” the report says.  

“The failure of BPD officers, particularly supervisors, to intervene given their observations of Sergeant Kent is unacceptable,” the report says, noting that officers in the narcotics unit are not all trained in detecting drug abuse and they are not trained to tell their supervisors if fellow officers appear unable to fulfill their responsibilities. 

Some other facts noted in the PRC report were that while Kent was placed on administrative leave Jan. 6, a warrant to search Kent’s office and car was not issued until Jan. 25 2006, and a search warrant for his computer wasn’t issued until Feb. 17 2006. 

The chief accepted most of the recommendations advanced by the PRC including:  

moving the responsibility for storage of all narcotics evidence out of the Special Enforcement Units; holding scheduled and unscheduled inspections; and identifying who is responsible for monitoring entry into secured drug storage areas.  

The authors of the report, PRC Commissioners William White, Sharon Anne Kidd and Sherry Smith, and community members Jim Chanin and Andrea Prichett, said that the report’s weakness was the inability of the subcommittee to interview various officers.  

“The [Berkeley Police Association] BPA’s attorney wrote to Chief Hambleton and threatened to sue the city if officers were interviewed about this incident,” the report says, noting that the objections were related to a California Supreme Court decision and a BPA lawsuit that shields officers from public scrutiny for personnel reasons.  

Also before the council will be: 

• The contract between the Berkeley Police Association and the city that will give the police a cumulative cost of living adjustment of 14 percent over four years, approximately $6.9 million between 2008 and 2012.  

• A resolution aimed at the Marine Recruiting Center downtown: asking the city attorney to look into enforcing a clause in the city’s municipal code prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and directing the city manager to send letters to the Marine Recruiting Center “advising them that the Marine recruiting office is not welcome in our city….” 

• A resolution calling on the governor to remove California National Guard troops from Iraq; 

• A request asking for information on pedestrian and bicycle accidents; 

• A resolution opposing attempts by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to close medical marijuana dispensaries and declaring Berkeley a sanctuary for medicinal cannabis use and distribution.