Police Prohibit Open Dialogue
L A Wood, Daily Californian, October 24, 2000
The debate over controlled neighborhood parking took an
abrupt turn last week when police officers affiliated
with the Berkeley Police Association appeared at the City Council chambers
to lobby for parking access at the civic center ("Police Seek Immediate
Parking Relief," Oct. 19). The action marks one of those rare moments
when the rank-and-file have publicly demonstrated.
As city employees, police officers have every right to
demonstrate. And there was nothing wrong with them chanting, "What
do we want? Parking! When do we want it? Now." However, when shouting
officers, and in particular the president of the Berkeley Police Association,
target local neighborhood activists at the council, it raises questions
about proper police conduct. To publicly single out particular residents
as the source of their parking woes, was not only shortsighted but also
Berkeley officers should realize that their parking ticket
woes are to be blamed on their employer, the City of Berkeley, and not
local residents. Further, most residents are in support of city employees
having off-street parking at their work places. Certainly adequate parking
is demanded of other large businesses in Berkeley.
A decade ago, the city committed itself to reducing both its fleet site
and the number of employee commuter cars when it signed onto the Clean
Air Act. Throughout the 90s, Berkeley government unfortunately did nothing
to address these two issues, preferring to exempt itself from any changes
in this area of transportation.
Perhaps the greatest deterrent to open dialogue in a neighborhood
dispute is the phrase, "I can arrest you." This statement
was repeatedly shouted by an officer as he and other Berkeley Police
Association members took the demonstration outside council chambers
and directed their ire at a single citizen. The officer only stopped
when his conduct was challenged by some of the public who had joined
in the yelling match. It is doubtful that any of those young officers
stopped to consider the chilling effect such threats and actions have
on public discourse and participation.
The officers in question would be quick to state that
they were off-duty. Yet, when the would-be arresting officer asserted,
"I can arrest you," is this officer then still off-duty? The
fact is that our police officers are never off-duty. Even if officers
are technically off the clock, they should never display the kind of
conduct witnessed both inside and outside council. Moreover, this is
an inappropriate use of one's position and should be subject to review.
Two years ago, the noted criminal lawyer John Burris
spoke in Berkeley about police conduct and civilian review. He stated
that the greatest asset to any officer is not the gun, baton or pepper
spray, but the officer's ability to listen as well as communicate respectfully.
Parking debate overheats at meeting
By John Geluardi Special to the Daily Planet Thursday October 19, 2000
Tempers flared Tuesday night when 20 off-duty Berkeley police officers attended the City Council meeting to complain about what they said is woeful lack of parking for police department employees.
They were responding to an item the mayor had placed on the agenda recommending that the city explore creating new parking for city employees.
The officers, all members of the Berkeley Police Association, the department’s union, wore blue baseball caps with BPA emblazoned on the front.
At each City Council meeting 10 members of the public are chosen by lottery to address the council for three minutes. Three BPA members were chosen.
One officer called the city’s transit-first policy a “Polly Anna” viewpoint, then singled out an individual who lives near the police station, who has frequently complains about police employees illegally parking near her home.
“You need to tell Carrie Sprague to take her clipboard and go home,” Randy Files, president of the BPA said during his address to the council.
BPA members said Sprague is known to write down the license numbers of cars violating Residential Parking Permit laws near her home. Many of the cars belong to on-duty police officers.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington said that for a police officer to single out a resident is inappropriate behavior. “It’s not good when the BPA muscles other people with intimidation just to get approval for something that will have serious long-term impact on the community and the environment,” he said.
The officers said they sometimes have to walk six to eight blocks to get to work because of residential parking permit laws. The situation, they said, is especially dangerous for female employees walking to their cars after late-night shifts.
“You give us hypocritical thanks and then you slap us in the face,” Files said, referring to the council’s praise of the police department’s handling of the looting that occurred on Telegraph Avenue early Sunday morning.
The mayor, concerned about greater parking pressure when city employees move back into the newly retrofitted City Hall in late January, has recommended the City Council regard the matter as a priority and she wants the city manager to move expeditiously to solve the problem by determining how many new spaces would be reasonable and then trying to find them among existing parking spaces.
Worthington said the city should take long-term impacts into consideration when deciding what to do on this issue. He said there’s a Transportation Demand Study due in several weeks and the city should wait to review it before overreacting.
“This needs to be looked at in the whole context,” he said. “There are several dozen spaces that may solve the problem, for example the 40 spaces that Patrick Kennedy’s construction crew are using temporarily.”
The BPA made their position on additional parking very clear at the meeting. Officer Andrew Greenwood demanded the board take immediate and decisive action about what he called an “absurd” situation. He went on to say the problem is being created by a small group of residents. “We are being pitted against a very small vocal group, maybe five people.”
Files addressed the Council last. “You have to stop this Polly Anna viewpoint that your going to eliminate cars,” he said. “If you bury your head in the sand somebody’s going to get hurt and it will be on you.”
Dean said the city has never had a policy of eliminating cars because there will always be a need for some people to drive.
After Files addressed the council the BPA members left the chambers en masse. A heated verbal exchange in the hallway ensued between Sprague and several of the officers.
After the heated argument, the BPA members, apparently taking a page from Berkeley demonstrators, marched down the stairs, chanting: “What do we want? Parking!”
Sprague said she was shocked by the officers’ behavior. She said there’s an ongoing problem with parking in her neighborhood and it’s very difficult to get the police to enforce the existing Residential Parking Permit laws. She said parking is tough for everybody. “I come home late at night sometimes and I have to walk over a block and without a gun. (The police) have guns.”
The mayor’s recommendation to explore building parking for city employees was removed from Tuesday’s consent calendar and will be discussed at next week’s meeting. In the meantime the City Manager’s Office is putting together a report that will attempt to determine what would be a reasonable solution to the parking problem for all city employees.
Grace McGuire, assistant to the city manager, said there is no money in the budget for the construction of new parking facilities such as a garage and any new parking for city employees would mean taking parking from some other users. “The most likely spaces will be taken from public parking such as one of the three city-owned garages on Berkeley Way and Center and Oxford streets,” she said.
Worthington argued that a number of organizations, including the Sierra Club, Urban Ecology and the Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coalition opposed adding parking structures downtown. He added that he found the BPA’s chanting outside the council chambers amusing. “Usually it’s the liberals who use those tactics,” he said.