The Berkeley Police Department, February 2022. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

The city is making moves to revamp its internal warning system, a recommendation made years ago in a series of moves toward police reform.

Systems such as those the city is considering are designed to weed out troubling behavior and trends in the police departments that use them, from officer burnout to disparate uses of force to racial disparities in traffic stops.

Councilmember Kate Harrison, with Vice Mayor Ben Bartlett as co-sponsor, recommended setting aside $100,000 next fiscal year to “design a comprehensive Berkeley police early intervention and risk management system.”

“These systems, adopted successfully by neighboring jurisdictions, involve structured use of public safety data to inform goals and strategies and improve accountability and transparency,” Harrison wrote.

Among other benefits, an intervention system should improve department morale through commendations for positive performance, help track stress and burnout, identify trends in police-initiated stops or amongst specific squads or teams, and help the department avoid lawsuits by identifying troubling trends, according to the recommendation.

The recommendation highlighted an ongoing investigation into the department’s bike unit following allegations that Sgt. Darren Kacalek had instituted a quota system and made derogatory remarks about homeless residents and people of color.

“The expectation is that EIS and risk management systems can identify patterns of policing such as the arrest quotas alleged in 2022,” Harrison wrote about the early intervention systems. “The system would help identify officer, squad or department-wide outliers or patterns in stops, searches and use of force and their outcomes, to examine the reasons for racial disparities, to provide educational interventions and to take administrative action, as appropriate.”

A new, enhanced intervention system was a recommendation in a 2021 report from the Mayor’s Fair and Impartial Policing Working Group and the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform’s report on “reimagining public safety in Berkeley.”

On Tuesday, Christopher Bolton, a former deputy police chief in Oakland who now works as a public safety consultant and instructor, gave the Police Accountability Board a presentation on how early intervention systems could work.

“In their simplest form, early intervention systems will track certain events like uses of force, lawsuits, complaints are obviously on there,” Bolton said. “Agencies of various size, various locations will choose the types of events they track.”

Bolton used his younger self to show how these systems can help individual officers and entire departments, recalling a series of fender benders in a patrol car.

“It seemed to be that whenever I was reversing a police car, fire hydrants and poles magically moved in my way,” Bolton said.

If an intervention system had flagged him, there could have been several steps a supervisor, the department or Bolton himself could have taken — mentorship, extra driving training or, as Bolton ended up doing, physically getting out of his car to check behind it.

“An intervention comes with a sort of improvement plan. ‘This is what we think is the issue that’s causing some negative points; let’s help you not do this anymore because it’s stressful for you as an officer, it’s not what the community wants to see and ultimately, we want you here for a long time,’” Bolton said. 

Bolton advised that departments that use early warning systems should make sure their comparisons are fine-tuned since officers working during different times of the day or days of the week may have different encounters with community members and possible lawbreakers.

“You’ll have highly different officer activity on an officer working day watch shifts, in the daytime, compared to an officer that works an evening shift,” Bolton said. 

City police implemented a rudimentary early warning system in 2004 and updated it in 2008. In those systems, supervisors were “manually aggregating informal performance review and counseling intervention program information,” Harrison wrote. The early systems focused on attendance, complaints, uses of force, arrests involving accusations of obstructing or resisting, vehicle collisions and performance concerns.

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Alex N. Gecan joined Berkeleyside in 2023 as a senior reporter covering public safety. He has covered criminal justice, courts and breaking and local news for The Middletown Press, Stamford Advocate and...