Andrew Greenwood, a Berkeley native, King middle school and Berkeley High School alumnus, and the most senior man in the Berkeley Police Department (BPD), has recently ascended to the position of Interim Chief of Police, with a good likelihood of the interim being stricken from his title soon enough. Andy, as he likes to be called, greeted me with a big smile, a whole lot of knowledge about the BPD on the tip of his tongue, and an abundance of ideas on how a police department should be run ethically. He started off the interview with an extensive tour of the Berkeley Public Safety Building.
While it has only been in use since 2000, this building is chock full of history thanks largely to the work of Andy. Berkeley’s innovative police department is known across the country, and Greenwood is proud of that history.
The walls are plastered in old photos, each of which Greenwood knows the story behind. Yet, the exhibit which provides the most insight into his leadership philosophy was a wall on the first floor covered in portraits titled “Humans of BPD,” a play on Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York.” The wall was covered in portraits of people in civilian clothes. There was no way of knowing who was a beat cop, who was a sergeant, who worked in communications, etc. There was no hierarchy — just people. Greenwood explained to me that he saw this as humanizing the police department; he believes that “the police are the public, and the public are the police.” After the tour, we sat down for the interview.
The most contentious issue involving policing in America right now is probably the Black Lives Matter movement. Greenwood believes the movement is great, and, in his own words, “gives a voice to marginalized people.” He believes that policing should be built on four main concepts: transparency, accountability, respect, and neutrality.
Ultimately, the police should be able to explain what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, why they’re doing it, and that what they’re doing is fair and reasonable. These four “pillars” all go into holding up what he called police legitimacy. Essentially, police legitimacy is the idea that even if the police are arresting you, you can be confident that the police are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Greenwood explained that despite crime going down substantially since the 1990s, trust in police, and subsequently police legitimacy, haven’t gone up. He said, “Trust is key. Trust comes from communication, empathy, and it comes from the police doing things that make sense to people and being able to explain their actions.”
Greenwood went on to explain that he thinks this is due to the fact that, with the rise of the information age, people are often seeing the police doing very upsetting things, which simply wasn’t a factor in previous decades. However, he doesn’t think that the BPD should be judged for the actions of police across the country. He said, “The Berkeley Police Department has a long history of being progressive, of being diverse, and of being responsive to the community we police, and this goes back decades.” The BPD has very good implicit bias, crisis intervention, and de-escalation training.
The BPD has an eight hour, in house class for each of these and sends officers to longer week-long training programs run by the county whenever there are openings. Officers are even known to request to go to these training seminars. The intention of each of these classes is to prevent instances where people are hurt. Greenwood is a big believer in the “peelian principles of law enforcement,” and Peel’s sixth principle is that the police should use physical force only to the extent necessary, and even then, use only the minimum force necessary. Greenwood believes that the BPD shouldn’t be lumped in with police departments across the nation who don’t have similar practices. Even now, as chief, he often walks around in uniform, and that officers in uniform often experience a lot of prejudice. “The service that the men and women in law enforcement provide and the sacrifices that they make in service to the community deserve recognition and support.” Greenwood explained the rising difficulty that this dislike of police has led to less people applying to become officers.
Staffing is quite a problem for the BPD right now. It takes fourteen months to turn a fresh recruit into a full fledged police officer. A candidate has to apply, have interviews (including one with the chief of the department), get further training at the academy, and perform a litany of other tasks.
Greenwood said staffing is the number one priority for the BPD right now. This is because, he explained, “More staff means more flexibility.” Greenwood then talked about homelessness in Berkeley. He said that “99 out of one hundred times,” when the police interact with the homeless, it’s totally amicable. Usually, in the morning, someone calls the police because a homeless person is sleeping in their doorway or yard, the police ask the person to leave, and they leave. Simple as that. “We are also called to disturbances at times when a person who may be perceived as homeless, and where there’s some sor of angerous behavior manifesting itself as a result of mental illness or substance addiction,” Greenwood said.
When someone is a danger to themselves, the police will 5150 that person, which sends them to a psychiatric hospital like John George, and most likely detains them for a few hours, though they can be held for up to three days. The story you often hear in Berkeley is of police harassment of the homeless, but Greenwood said, “It’s a false narrative that the police are going out and harassing or trying to arrest homeless people.” In most cases, Greenwood says that the department is only working to move a homeless person from an area after they receive a call of concern. Greenwood went on to explain the controversy surrounding sanctioned campgrounds, places where the homeless are explicitly allowed to sleep, as opposed to unsanctioned campgrounds like the one which was across the street from Berkeley High recently. Greenwood isn’t a fan of these, and pointed out a few problems with them: resources, infrastructure, and utilities. There’s also issues of management: who runs the camp, who is or isn’t allowed to sleep there, who manages the behavior of people in the camp. Finally, he pointed out that there’s just not a lot of land in Berkeley. He said it’s going to be the duty of the city council to decide the city’s policy on the h-omeless, and the police’s job to enforce it. Greenwood concluded with an appreciation for the new Law and Social Justice class at BHS. He loves the idea of kids interacting with the police in a non-enforcement situation; it all goes back to the idea that the police are the public and the public are the police.