UCPD, Berkeley Police Department and Albany Police Department recently decided to partner to seek funding for an armored vehicle despite opposition from community members who fear it will be used to suppress protests.
The proposal for the armored vehicle, known as the East Bay Tactical Intervention Vehicle, has not yet been presented to Berkeley City Council, though the Berkeley Police Department’s mutual aid agreements — through which the department can request assistance from local agencies in times of need — will be presented to the council at a special meeting Tuesday night.
City council members, ACLU of Northern California representatives and the city’s Peace and Justice Commission are expected to speak at the meeting.
The proposal concerning the armored vehicle will not be specifically addressed until the council’s meeting on June 26, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington.
The three agencies would share the vehicle in times of threats to the safety of the public. The armored vehicle will be used for “active shooters, barricaded subjects and rescuing individuals,” according to Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Mary Kusmiss.
The agencies plan to receive funding from the Urban Areas Security Initiative, a Department of Homeland Security nonprofit organization that is intended to financially support agencies that are in high risk of a terrorist attack with “security enhancements.”
However, some residents believe the armored car is a symbol of fear and has been obtained in an effort to suppress protests, such as when an armored vehicle was previously used to break up the May 1 Occupy Oakland protest.
“We do not want our police officers sent to other jurisdictions to suppress protected First Amendment activity or non-violent civil disobedience,” the Social Justice Committee of the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists stated in a letter to members of the Berkeley Police Review Commission and Subcommittee on Mutual Aid Pacts. “(R)ecent events, including various police agencies’ responses to Occupy demonstrations, show that there is a need for additional review of our mutual aid policy.”
Other opposing organizations, such as the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, accuse the Urban Areas Security Initiative of “militarizing” local police agencies, and have urged the council to “sever its ties” with the initiative, according to a letter the organization sent to the Police Review Commission.
UCPD spokesperson Lt. Eric Tejada said the agencies’ intentions stand opposite from the criticisms they are facing.
“(The vehicle is) just a resource the agencies are trying to acquire in terms of protection for the community,” Tejada said.
UCPD will maintain custody of the rescue vehicle, according to Tejada.
The coalition and other organizations have been concerned about the mutual aid agreements because other agencies unfamiliar with Berkeley’s police protocol may end up handling its citizens.
The Gray Panthers and the SHARE Foundation also urge modification of the mutual aid agreements so that other law enforcement agencies working with Berkeley Police Department will comply with the city’s police procedures.
Worthington said that one of the problems with the armored vehicle is that its proposal has been hidden from the public.
“I first heard of the armored car from the general public,” he said. “The proposal wasn’t presented to the council in any grant request form.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said the armored vehicle will be used at events for Cal Athletics and the Solano Stroll. In fact, this statement came from Gene Bernardi, a member of SuperBOLD.