Policing in the Shadows 

Over the years, the UC Berkeley Police Department has escaped scrutiny, despite evidence of racial profiling, biased policing, and a lack of oversight.

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On Feb. 1, the same day UCPD arrested Cole, one of the three suspects in a different incident was simply described as, "Black male, no further details."

Campus officials didn't respond to Rahim's complaint about the alerts for months. Then a few weeks before Cole's arrest, UCPD added two disclaimers to its Nixle alerts. A new email header warned, "Please note this message may contain information that some may find upsetting." The email's footer also clarified when racial descriptions would be used. "Physical descriptions of a suspect, including race are included in timely warnings only when they provide several details that might help distinguish the suspect's appearance from the general population."

Soon after, Mia Settles-Tidwell, assistant vice-chancellor and chief of staff in the Division of Equity & Inclusion, emailed Rahim to inform him that Chief Bennett and Vice Chancellor Fisher reviewed his request. "Nixles will no longer include generalized racial descriptions," she wrote.

Then on Saturday, March 31, UCPD alerted community members about an aggravated assault the night before. The narrative stated a white male was "accosted by three to five Hispanic males in gray and black hoodies." UCPD sent an update and apology nine hours later with "physical descriptions that are more consistent with our current practice of informing our community." The updated description simply listed "three to five adult males," with no race information listed and the message, "We apologize for the error and any concern or misunderstanding it may have caused."

UCPD now omits useless racial descriptions of suspects. "Under the current process, when suspect descriptions are so vague to not be useful, UCPD will not include them in the Nixle alerts," UC spokesperson Gilmore said in an email. "However, when descriptions contain information that is helpful to a reader in identifying a potential suspect, they are included."

UCPD appears to have substituted racial descriptions for colorblind descriptions of suspects and found other ways to suggest race without directly mentioning race.

On June 7, UCPD sent out a warning about an armed robbery near campus reported to BPD. One of the men suspected of stealing a cellphone at People's Park was described as "Male, 25 years old, 5-feet-10-inches, thin build, wearing a hoodie, and holding a small, black semi-automatic handgun." His race was not included in the alert. Berkeley police received descriptions of both men's race, but UCPD omitted it from the alerts, although four other characteristics were also given for the passenger and driver.

On Aug. 22, a UCPD alert described a 65-year-old male aggravated assault suspect as having a "dark complexion." An Aug. 26 alert sent out by UCPD showed an image of an auto burglary suspect, but did not include race in the description of the "male suspect."

David Cole's arrest wasn't the first time people accused UCPD of excessive force. During both November 2009 protests over tuition hikes and the November 2011 Occupy Cal protests, UCPD repeatedly struck demonstrators with batons. Both incidents were reviewed by UC Berkeley's Police Review Board (PRB). Yet over the past decade, UC Berkeley's PRB appears to have primarily only responded to highly publicized crises and not addressed concerns of racially biased policing.

The PRB has rarely disagreed with UC police's rulings on civilian complaints. One complainant alleged an officer was racially biased during the 2010-2011 school year. UCPD rerouted the complaint to a Work File Memo, used for "minor" complaints. It was not reviewed by the PRB. The 2013 annual PRB report states that campus police "counseled [the] officer and reminded him/her of our expectation regarding the professional level of policing our officers provide our community." "Documentation" was placed in the unknown officer's personnel file, according to the report.

The PRB was established in 1990 and is primarily responsible for monitoring department policies and reviewing appeals to complaints received and reviewed by UCPD internally, according to its website. Complaints that UCPD's internal review deems unfounded, meaning they lacked evidence or did not occur, can be appealed to the PRB.

But the board has frequently lacked full membership and not held annual public meetings, an Express analysis of annual reports found. The board — which is composed of two faculty representatives; two students, one undergraduate and one graduate; staff, community, and a law enforcement representative not in active service — are appointed by the vice chancellor of administration. The current vice chancellor, Fisher, was appointed to the position last fall. The PRB, which has suffered from high rates of turnover (there have been three staff assistants for the board over the past five years), did not hold its annual public meetings 2013 or 2015, and instead of annual reports, has essentially hosted bi-annual public meetings and published reports every other year.

An Express review of annual reports posted on the PRB website suggests that complaints and board activity usually relates to large protests, but there is little systematic analysis of UCPD policies, procedures, and efforts to address racial profiling.

In 2014, members of the police accountability group, Berkeley Copwatch, called on UCPD to begin to make public its stop data. According to a subsequent annual report, published two years later in 2016, the PRB reportedly "reviewed summary data regarding UCPD traffic stops and race for calendar year 2014 and the first half of 2015, and has sought to facilitate the [d]epartment's effort to analyze the data further."


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