Public Comment

Police Put Community At Risk

By Larissa Cummings
Thursday June 11, 2009 - 07:05:00 PM

As a resident of South Berkeley I am outraged that the Berkeley Police Department claims its recent high-speed police pursuits were “by the book.” Just weeks ago, two innocent people were killed as a result of BPD engaging in a high-speed chase down heavily populated neighborhood streets into a major corridor. This is not unprecedented; it is increasing. Our community has been victimized by these tactics numerous times over many years. It needs to stop. 

This past Tuesday, about 10 police cars chased a suspect driving fast from West Berkeley to South Berkeley and caused chaos at the corner of Shattuck and Ashby, a major intersection, when the suspect crashed into a parked car and fled on foot. BPD cordoned off my neighborhood and re-directed all southbound Shattuck traffic down my tiny one-block-long street. We assumed there was an accident and had no idea that an armed and dangerous suspect was on the loose. My small child was playing in our backyard. We were put at extreme risk under seige for nearly three hours and BPD took insufficient action to alert us.  

BPD claims in the media that it informed all of us in the cordoned-off area by phone what was going on. We got nothing more than an indescipherable phone message about a hour after this started that I could not tell was from the BPD. The only way I know it was the BPD is because we got a similar message hours later that included only a garbled “Berkeley Police Department” and “all clear.” I learned from the Berkeley Daily Planet’s news flash what was going on. Thanks to the Planet I learned that there were police dogs and a SWAT team out there, armed and dangerous. How many resources were put to use? Not one BPD officer came down our street to tell us anything or to stay inside. Cars crashed on my street. There were hundreds of them backed up at rush hour due to the BPD’s actions. 

I have not been able to locate the department’s current high-speed chase policy “BPD General Order V-6.” Police Review Commission minutes from July 2007 state: “There is a new general order V-6. This policy is intended to reduce potential hazards to the public and to pursuing officers generated by police pursuits of fleeing suspects while maximizing the opportunity for apprehension.” In 2003, the Police Review Commission sent a memo to the City Council recommending that its policy be touted as a model to the state governor and legislature. It excerpted significant parts of the 1997 V-6, including:  

During a pursuit these factors and conditions should be continually weighed by the primary unit and/or the pursuit supervisor: the seriousness of the original crime; the danger posed to the community by the fleeing motorist; the safety of the pursuing officers; the speeds involved in the pursuit; the volume of vehicle and pedestrian traffic in the area of the pursuit; the safety of the public in the area where the pursuits are moving (i.e., schools, parks, hospitals, commercial district); pursuit units familiarity with the surrounding area; the quality of radio transmissions between pursuing units, the Control dispatcher, and the Pursuit Supervisor; weather conditions; road conditions; time of day. 

BPD’s actions in these two incidents—and others—are hardly by the book. Clearly, if cops cannot readily apprehend suspects firing at car windows and tires, which is what happened last Tuesday, they should not chase them across Berkeley into residential neighborhoods, down major corridors, or near schools that had to be locked down. BPD needs to be reminded that tragedy resulted from the incident the other week. The risks to the community outweigh the benefits of immediate apprehension in these situations.  


Larisa Cummings is a South Berkeley resident.