Statement: Berkeley Police Accountability and Chief Appointment

Thank you all for your robust and passionate public comment at this week’s Council meeting on police accountability and, in particular, the role of the Police Accountability Board (PAB). Our PAB, whose independence from the City Manager is enshrined in our Charter, asked in November, 2022 and again this April that we delay the appointment of a Chief until the investigation into text messages between members of the Downtown Bike Team is finished.

The team members’ texts, sent during work, used racist and derogatory language against members of the public and alleged that the department had arrest quotas in exchange for which team members would receive overtime. The City Manager in November withdrew the appointment of the Chief and promised to delay it until an investigation was complete. Investigations were launched by an independent law firm with a parallel investigation of departmental policies and practices by our PAB.

I am disappointed that the City Manager brought forward the appointment now even though the investigations are not finished and asked that it be placed on consent despite the extensive public interest in discussing it.

We have been assured by the City Attorney that the independent legal investigation will be completed within a month and a half and I expect the PAB to complete its work in that time. I and two colleagues voted to move the item to the action calendar and I made a motion to delay the appointment to our July meeting so we could move forward quickly but with full information. That motion failed and the Chief was appointed (Vice Mayor Bartlett and I abstained from the final vote).

I put forward the dollars to reestablish the bike team four years ago and support special assignments for our officers, both to enhance community policing and to provide opportunities for growth among officers. I still believe that a well-managed bike team can be a strong model for community policing. I was encouraged by Chief Louis’ commitments at Tuesday’s hearing to introduce an early intervention system identifying departmental disparities and trends. Had such a system been in place, it could have much earlier identified the problems that surfaced in the Bike Patrol. She also addressed the Department’s on-going efforts to address its staffing shortages and reduce violent and property crimes in our city, including stemming gun violence through Ceasefire.

My request to allow the process to play out is not based on the Chief’s role as a Captain when the texts occurred from 2019-2020. The Chief stated that she was working in another division and that she is confident the narrow personnel investigation of the bike team will vindicate her. The real issue is a credible plan to address the unconstitutional, racist and corrupt culture revealed by the texts, including how they plan to hold individuals involved accountable (especially those individuals who were in a management position over the team), and implement changes to City policy, as appropriate. The Chief’s ‘90-day plan,’ released the day before the hearing, is silent on these issues. The ‘plan’ references “transmit[ing] organizational expectations [and]…[e]ngag[ing] in needs assessment and develop[ing] approaches…” without specifics. Moreover, there was not a single mention of coordination with the Police Accountability Board.

The Charter gives the PAB the power to conduct investigations, promote the public trust, act as necessary civilian oversight of the Police Department and have a role in evaluating candidates for the Chief. I have heard some members of public and a few of my colleagues deride the PAB as “activists” (activists insured we have same-sex marriage and got us out of the Vietnam War). When the PAB advised us to slow the Chief appointment, it included members that are now a U.S. Attorney for Northern District of California who graduated from Harvard, lawyers licensed for 30-50 years by the California Bar, a professor in criminal justice at UC Irvine, two people who work for police departments and others. They were chosen by all of us (one of the amendments I accepted to the original language I proposed on the PAB). They represent all of us. I urge the City Manager and the entire City team to give the PAB the support it requires to carry out its Charter-mandated duties.

The PAB, the League of Women Voters, the ACLU and the NAACP and LATINX and other students want our community to be safe and just.

Ensuring that members of our community are treated fairly and that unconstitutional arrest quotas are not in place is not at odds with addressing crime. In fact, faith and confidence in government helps ensure that the public works with the police to make our community safe. This text scandal has detracted from what should be the focus of our department.

I appreciate your dedication to making Berkeley safe for all and I am grateful for the trust you place in me to faithfully represent you even when the going gets tough. I am confident that the people will continue to lead the way with transparency and accountability at the forefront.


Kate Harrison
Berkeley City Council, District 4