The Police Review Commission meeting on March  11, 2015. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
The Police Review Commission meeting on March  11, 2015. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

In response to criticism about how they treated residents on McKinley Avenue in December, the Berkeley Police Department is working to establish a new set of rules for commandeering a neighborhood during large-scale protests or events.

Berkeley Police Captain Andrew Greenwood presented a proposed set of guidelines to the Police Review Commission on Wednesday night. He also apologized again for the manner in which police treated residents on McKinley Avenue, which is located right behind the Berkeley police department’s HQ, during the December “Black Lives Matter” protests.

“By failing to communicate with the neighbors ahead of time we caused a very bad situation for them,” said Greenwood.

The new guidelines, which have yet to be formalized, would aim to prevent a similar situation from happening again by creating a communications plan and consistent protocols for police to interact with residents .

From Dec. 6 to Dec.11, the BPD basically took over the 2100 block of McKinley Avenue to use it as a staging area for mutual aid from other jurisdictions. Around 83 officers from other departments assisted in crowd control, according to city documents, and they caused major disruption on the street. The Hayward Police Department even parked an armored vehicle there.

Police from other jurisdictions provided mutual aid to the Berkeley Police Department during the December 2014 protests, and set up on McKinley Ave. Photo, taken on Dec. 8, 2014, by Ashley Atkinson
Police from other jurisdictions provided mutual aid to the Berkeley Police Department during the December 2014 protests, and set up on McKinley Ave. Photo, taken on Dec. 8, 2014, by Ashley Atkinson

Berkeley police had anticipated there would be a large number of people protesting the shooting of a young unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo. Around 1,000 people ended up coming the first night. Police put up signs Dec. 5 telling residents not to park on McKinley Avenue from noon until midnight on Dec. 6 and warning them they would be towed if they did. Berkeley generally gives people a three-day notice of a no-parking zone. On Dec. 7, signs went up stating no parking would be allowed the rest of the week.

Police blocked off the street with metal barriers and made many residents produce identification before they could return home. Many residents felt the police were brusque with them. The police officers who gathered made a lot of noise and left a lot of trash, prompting neighbors to complain about how they had been treated.

Greenwood told the PRC that the BPD made many mistakes in the way it communicated with neighbors and that the department was reworking its rules to make sure it does not happen again.

The new guidelines include:

  • Consideration of a staging site other than McKinley Avenue. Berkeley police chose to stage operations there because it is next to the police station. In future, the department might look for a different site or it could use McKinley Avenue differently, said Greenwood. For example, police could park their cars on the block and use the police parking lot as a staging area. That might be less disruptive, he said.
  • Better communication with the neighborhood, city council members, and other interested parties through an email blast, a Nixle alert, flyer distribution, and in person. This could also include having a Berkeley police official hold a daily meeting with neighbors on the street to explain what residents could expect to happen.
  • Create a policy that allows residents access to their neighborhood. One of the issues during the December protests was that different police officers guarding the barricades asked different questions of residents, said Greenwood. Some officers just asked a resident’s address, while others demanded identification. BPD is now vowing to establish a consistent protocol. Most likely this would be merely asking for an address, he said.
  • Allow residents to park on one side of the street. In December, BPD prohibited parking on both sides of the street for a few days, inconveniencing residents. Police eventually just used one side of the street.
  • Providing portable toilets for the use of officers. Some residents said that police officers urinated in their bushes because they didn’t have toilets.
  • Ensuring that Public Works comes to the street to clean up after the action is over.
Berkeley Police Captain Andrew Greenwood addresses Police Review Commission on March 11, 2015. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Greenwood said the police department has already learned from the mistakes it made on McKinley Avenue. When the city council held a meeting at Longfellow Middle School about the protests on Dec. 16, police sent out emails and distributed flyers along seven blocks to alert neighbors that there might be protests and a police presence.

“We felt there were lessons learned in the communication side and we tried to apply them for the next situation,” said Greenwood.

Much of the discussion at the PRC meeting centered on how these new rules would be incorporated so that they are not overlooked. Greenwood said he thought they should be added to a checklist police officers use whenever they are planning for a large event.

Many commissioners said the new rules should be included in the General Orders, the rules that establish how police must act. That way they would be permanent rules.

“If you have a training manual, a training bulletin, it’s not going to be enough,” said Commission Vice-Chair George Perezvelez. “I am in full support of creating a General Order because it is no longer discretionary… so there are no gray areas in dealing with a neighborhood.”

Greenwood said he was in support of including the new guidelines in the General Orders but pointed out the rules now filled two thick binders. He thought they should also be included in the checklist used during demonstrations.

Greenwood plans to return to the PRC in a month after talking to other police officials about how to codify the proposed rules.

Greenwood said he and other police officials have had numerous meetings with McKinley Avenue residents to explain what happened in December and to strategize how to prevent it from happening again. Greenwood said he helped dismiss the ticket and refund the towing fee of one resident. However, at least one McKinley Avenue resident still has a complaint about police action pending.

“The Berkeley Police Department is committed to learning from experience and finding the best way to incorporate lessons learned into our incident management processes in order t best serve our community,” Greenwood wrote in his memo to the PRC.

In related news, the PRC announced that the one civilian complaint filed against police in connection with the Dec. 6 protests had not been sustained. One allegation of police conduct was not sustained and one was unfounded. The PRC Board of Inquiry conducted its review on March 6.

Residents air concerns about police staging to Police Review Commission (01.15.15)
Neighbors complain about Berkeley Police commandeering their street to get ready for protests (12.15.14)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...