The Berkeley police union has filed a complaint with the state alleging multiple violations by the city’s new Police Accountability Board, and asking that any changes since the board was formed, to officer misconduct investigations and resulting disciplinary actions, be voided.
The Berkeley Police Association announced Monday that it had filed an unfair labor practice charge on March 21 with the Public Employment Relations Board, a state body that handles workers’ rights complaints against public agencies such as cities and school districts.
The union alleges in a 360-page document that the city didn’t give police enough notice before making changes related to officer misconduct investigations and other working conditions governed by the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act. The complaint also says the Police Accountability Board (PAB) violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s open meeting and transparency law for public agencies.
Katherine Lee, the PAB’s interim director, declined to comment on the union’s complaint. City Attorney Farimah Brown could not be reached for comment.
To date, the police union has sent multiple letters to the city to ask for a “meet and confer” process, and that several alleged violations be corrected in line with the union contract and the Brown Act. Citing the city’s failure to respond, the union followed up with a “Cease and Desist” letter March 2 and said legal action might be necessary.
Days later, the PAB abruptly postponed a police misconduct hearing that had been slated to take place. But the city did not correct the alleged violations, according to the BPA, which resulted in the state labor complaint.
“The city, through its unaccountable Police Accountability Board, is just rewriting entire sections of the city’s police oversight rules enacted by the voters, which it simply cannot do,” Rocky Lucia, an attorney for the police union, said in a statement.
The Police Accountability Board was created last year after its approval by 85% of Berkeley’s voters in November 2020 with Measure II. Work to create the board had been underway for years, but it was also formed in response to a nationwide reckoning over police violence and misconduct following the police killing of George Floyd.
The new body has broader oversight capabilities than the 48-year-old Police Review Commission it replaced. The PAB can make recommendations on the police budget; review complaints against officers and recommend disciplinary actions; access more police records; and participate in hiring the police chief, among other responsibilities.
According to the police union, the PAB proposed several changes to how it would do business, when it kicked off in July 2021, as laid out in a set of interim guidelines. The changes, the union said, included allowing eyewitnesses and a board majority (not just aggrieved parties) to make complaints against officers, extending the complaint period to 180 days, and allowing complainants to interrogate officers in hearings.
The union says it pushed back on the changes to allow time for a formal meet-and-confer process, but the City Council ultimately adopted the interim regulations in October 2021 without letting that take place.
In its filing, the union also alleges additional violations of its labor contract, such as officers not being given “access to information” before misconduct hearings, preventing the union from representing its members.
The Berkeley Police Association is now asking that the Police Accountability Board’s interim guidelines be rescinded and that any disciplinary actions from its investigations be revoked, in addition to the payment of attorneys’ fees, back pay and any other losses experienced by officers. The city has 30 days to respond to the complaint.
Featured photo credit: Kelly Sullivan