Policing the police

Unprecedented Berkeley coalition is creating policies to regulate a wide variety of police-state abuses

A violent Oct. 25 police raid on OccupyOakland prompted Berkeley to suspend some of its mutual aid agreements

Bay Area cities have been at the forefront of local challenges to the police state, making stands on issues including racial profiling, deportations of undocumented immigrants, the use of force against peaceful protests, and police intelligence-gathering and surveillance of law-abiding citizens. But the city of Berkeley is creating comprehensive policies to address all of these issues in a proposed Peace and Justice Ordinance that is now being developed.

The effort comes against the backdrop of clashes between police and Occupy movement protesters, including the violent Oct. 25 police raid on OccupyOakland, with Berkeley Police and other jurisdictions on the scene.

Among other things, Berkeley is redefining when it will join other communities in what's called "mutual aid" agreements — deals that require nearby agencies to help each other out when one public-safety department is overwhelmed.

It's not terribly controversial when it applies to firefighting — but some people in San Francisco and Berkeley weren't happy to see their officers joining the Oakland cops in the crackdown in peaceful protesters.

Berkeley officials also want to limit the ability of local cops to work with the FBI and federal immigration agents.

The effort began quietly last summer with behind-the-scene organizing spearheaded by the Washington D.C.-based Bill of Rights Defense Committee, which reached out to a wide variety of groups, include the NAACP, the ACLU, Asian Law Caucus, National Lawyers Guild, the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, and the city's Peace and Justice Commission.

"It was a series of one-on-one conversations with the leaders of these groups and then getting them into a room together," said Bill of Rights Defense Committee Executive Director Shahid Buttar.

That effort got a major push forward last month when Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington led an effort to suspend mutual aid agreements the Berkeley Police Department has with the University of California police and two other police agencies — as well as two city policy documents — over concerns about the use of force against peaceful protesters and domestic surveillance activities.

The council approved the proposal unanimously. Ironically, on the day after the vote, the university launched a violent and controversial crackdown on the OccupyCal encampment — without the help of Berkeley Police.

"It sends the message that we're not going to try to suppress people's rights to demonstrate and express themselves," Arreguin told the Guardian.

The timing of the violent police raid on OccupyOakland — which made international headlines — helped elevate the issue. "What happened in Oakland made people very concerned," Arreguin said.

Peace and Justice Commission member George Lippman agreed: "People were so shocked by what happened in Oakland that they didn't resist. ...To me, it comes down to what are our values."

Arreguin used public records laws to obtain the mutual aid agreements between the various cities and then, with help from activists, identified provisions that conflict with Berkeley laws and values. Worthington said that work was crucial to winning over other members of the council: "If it was a generic objection to the whole thing, we would not have won the vote."

The agreements that the council suspended were with the UC police, the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (an arm of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, a domestic surveillance pact that has ramped up activities since 9/11), the Urban Area Security Initiative (a creation of the Department of Homeland Security), the city's Criminal Intelligence Policy, and its Jail Policy (which directs local officers to honor federal immigration holds).