An Open Letter to City Council and the City Manager on Police Encryption. Category: Public Comment from The Berkeley Daily Planet – Berkeley Daily…

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our concern about the recent decision by the Berkeley City Council, the City Manager, and the Berkeley Police Department to use encrypted public safety radio devices in Berkeley.

It is our understanding that the City of Berkeley selected the company, Motorola Solution, to provide encrypted public safety radio devices for two reasons: 1) there is no alternative radio device to share communications with neighboring police units, and 2) the company would provide a discount to this city. We now understand that these reasons are false.

The contract was given to Motorola in a no-bid process, against city regulations, and cheaper radio equipment from JVCKenwood would serve just as well with Motorola and with other neighboring systems. It seems the city council committed money to Motorola for their system upgrade, a cost which has gone from $4.2 Million to its present $6.5 million.

Under our municipal regulations, the City of Berkeley is required to conduct a competitive bid process so radio device providers have an equitable opportunity to bid for the contract. At the same time, the competitive bid process also provides the public with an understanding about the nature of proposed changes to its public safety radio device system and its intention to use municipal taxpayer funds to cover the costs. Instead, the City of Berkeley circumvented the competitive bid process and any public discussion about making a fundamental change to our public safety communications for people who live or come to Berkeley.

The city council had also voted to not do any business with any company that works with ICE, but that is exactly what Motorola does! So Berkeley is in violation of its own principles of human rights.

The reason this has suddenly become an issue is that California state government ordained that police radio communications be encrypted to restrict the public from access to confidential information about police officers (under the so-called patrolpersons bill of rights (PBOR)). But this is a requirement that the BPD already satisfies, since it uses "Signal" and other encryption software. In other words, Berkeleys decision, fallaciously in response to the state, is in bad faith.

The competitive bid process provides the public with information about the nature of proposed changes to its public safety radio device system and its intention to use municipal taxpayer funds to cover the costs. The City of Berkeley is required to conduct a competitive bid process so radio device providers have an equitable opportunity to bid for the contract. Berkeley circumvented the competitive bid process, and any public discussion about making a fundamental change to our public safety communications for people who live or come to Berkeley.

The primary reason for which persons interest themselves in those operations is to become watchers, witnesses, and a de-escalating presence to how police deal with certain people in particular, very diverse people, including those with mental health and substance use issues, low income people, people of color, those who are unhoused, and people with multiple identities and conditions.

Often police criminalize a person who has simply called for assistance by giving an arbitrary or unneeded command, which the subject refuses, and is then arrested for disobedience, often with violence.

h2. Radio encryption will have the consequence of making it impossible for Berkeley Copwatch to serve as public accountability for the Berkeley Police Department. Copwatch was formed 30 years ago when police brutality, arbitrary arrest, and racially biased practices were on the rise. Copwatch offered civilian participation in policing matters, and aspired to develop greater social trust in the police. That trust could be grounded in public observation, and thus the knowledge that the police were an agency that had civilian interests at heart. Ordinary people needed to be assured that black and brown people were not treated as an assumed enemy.

3. The third consequence of encryption would be the loss of the medias capacity to collect information and be present. Radio encryption insulates the police from the people who they are to serve. It will thus hinder the entire project of representation by excluding resident access to information on the function of government. Police will be in control of information needed by the people for their own participation in government. Any move by a government agency to exclude the people is anti-democratic.

We want openness in communication, cooperation in governance, respect across the different functions and structures of our daily lives. As we move forward to reimagining public safety in our Berkeley community, it is critical that we move forward with meaningful change.

1. Open communications allows us to address individual and structural policing harms that disparately impact Black, Latinx, Native American, Asian American, Pacific Islander, LGBTQIA+, unhoused people, people with low income, people with disabilities (mental health, substance use, physical). We have egregious policing harms from traffic stops, and accountability for call taking operations, dispatch, and response in the community is key to solving them and ensuring they do not continue.

2. Open public safety communications for call taking, dispatch, and responding to people in the community allows us observe and witness with the aim to diminish overall risks of injury and death from police aggression and violence and how calls are diverted from police to non-police crisis response and other alternative programs to policing particularly in the future.

3. Open communication improves public safety when people can observe and witness how police by themselves or co-responding with the mobile crisis unit, respond to people experiencing mental illness and/or substance use problems in the community. They can see if first responders are focused on trauma-informed de-escalation and harm reduction, and if they are able to coordinate for appropriate levels of care, including transport to the next destination.

4. Open communication further improves public safety when people can observe and witness if law enforcement is responding to non-criminal events in the community that could be answered by alternatives to policing, including for first aid and non-emergency medical care, housing assistance, resource connection and referrals and if they are using culturally safe and responsive practices to serve diverse individuals in the community.

The residents of the city of Berkeley voted overwhelmingly for Measure ii. Its intent was to bring greater attention, and help to people caught in webs of trouble and to make sure that they will be treated with respect. Encryption does the opposite by putting behavior back into the shadows.

References:

https://www.dailycal.org/2021/10/12/berkeleys-contract-with-motorola-solutions-was rushed-lacked-transparency/

https://www.dailycal.org/2021/10/04/an-artificial-crisis-city-council-to-vote-on-sanctuary waiver-for-motorola/

https://www.vice.com/en/article/vb5ab4/motorola-solutions-works-with-ice-cbp

Karl Knobler

Rivka Polatnik

Edward Olson

Margaret Fine

Steve Martinot

RCJR [Racial and Criminal Justice Reform]

Lynn Cooper

Negeene Mosaed

[Please sign and distribute if you agree.]

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An Open Letter to City Council and the City Manager on Police Encryption. Category: Public Comment from The Berkeley Daily Planet - Berkeley Daily...

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