Berkeley City Council approves most of police department’s mutual aid agreements

Following community concern regarding Berkeley police’s presence at Occupy Oakland, Berkeley City Council approved at its meeting Tuesday all but five agreements of the mutual aid pact that brought them there — formally making the agreements effective for the first time in almost seven months.

The Berkeley Municipal Code stipulates the pact — a set of agreements between law enforcement and security agencies that ensures outside aid to agencies when their resources are insufficient — is effective for one year following City Council’s approval. Tuesday’s approval brought the city back to compliance with city law since agreements expired in April. Prior to the April 2010 approval, the agreements had not been approved since 2006.

According to City Attorney Zach Cowan, the pact has been observed for decades despite inconsistent council approval. Cowan said the municipal code does not provide any penalty if the pact is not approved annually.

“It’s kind of impossible to undo something that’s already happened … over the past 30 or 40 years,” he said.

The five agreements that were not approved were the Berkeley Police Department’s agreements with UCPD and the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, as well as agreements concerning criminal intelligence sharing, the Berkeley City Jail and the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Area Security Initiative.

Before the council approved the agreements Tuesday, the pact was technically invalid, according to Cowan. The practical effect of being noncompliant with the code is unclear.

Cowan said if Berkeley refused to provide mutual aid to other agencies because the agreements were ineffective, the city probably would not receive aid in return — except in a state of declared emergency.

Some Berkeley residents and officials have raised concerns that mutual aid has been used to end peaceful demonstrations.

“We’re all appalled at the level of violence that was used by whatever agency came to mutual aid (at Occupy Oakland),” Councilmember Linda Maio said at the meeting. “It was just totally overkill.”

Andrea Pritchett, a Copwatch member who brought a complaint to the city’s Police Review Commission in March regarding the mutual aid pact, expressed concern that the agreements do not contain the criteria necessary to certify that mutual aid is only being used for actual public safety threats.

“Are we supposed to come every time … there’s a uncomfortable political situation and we need to make it look like an emergency?” Pritchett asked at the meeting. “Mutual aid has deteriorated into sort of a cover for suppressing free speech.”

According to the state’s Law Enforcement Mutual Aid Plan, it is the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office’s responsibility as the area’s mutual aid coordinating entity to “evaluate requests for assistance from local agencies.”

At the meeting, Mayor Tom Bates asked Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan about what would happen if Berkeley police were called into a jurisdiction on mutual aid and were told that the home jurisdiction was ready to deploy force on protesters.

According to Meehan, Berkeley police always send a command level officer, who has control over the Berkeley resources, on the ground during mutual aid situations.

“If another city asks us to do something that was a violation of our policy or against what we would typically do, (the command level officer) can say no,” Meehan said at the meeting.

Sarah Burns is the lead crime reporter.