City Council to hold special meeting to determine BPD’s participation in Urban Shield

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Joshua Jordan/File

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Berkeley City Council will hold a special meeting Tuesday to determine whether the Berkeley Police Department will continue participating in Urban Shield.

Urban Shield is a four-day annual training program that brings together police forces from the Bay Area and beyond. Events include simulations of high-pressure situations for SWAT teams and a vendor show for firearms and other policing technology sellers.

BPD has participated in Urban Shield since 2007. City Councilmember Cheryl Davila said she hopes Tuesday’s meeting will end this partnership.

“Our police officers are much needed in the community (to) keep us safe. But they need to be peace officers, not militarized,” Davila said.

The money for Urban Shield comes from United States Department of Homeland Security grants for police training that are related to terrorism prevention, response and recovery, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Tuesday’s special council meeting will determine whether Berkeley will accept these grant funds. City Council will also decide Tuesday whether BPD will purchase an armored van, the cost of which will not exceed $205,373.

John Lindsay-Poland, a member of the American Friends Service Committee — which is part of the Stop Urban Shield Coalition — said Urban Shield “highlights and privileges militarized policing” at the expense of other types of preparedness, including mental health training.

Sharif Zakout, lead organizer at the Arab Resource & Organizing Center in San Francisco, said he was concerned about possible connections between Urban Shield and Islamophobia, alleging that Urban Shield encourages the perception of different communities as “enemy combatants.”

Zakout added that Berkeley’s self-designation as a sanctuary city with its maintained participation in Urban Shield was an ironic combination, especially under the Trump administration.

“(This) program, combined with our racist administration, is going to be doing a lot more damage,” Zakout alleged.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said if BPD continues to participate in Urban Shield, the city of Berkeley needs to take a leading role in improving the program.

“If (Urban Shield is) willing to consider changes to make it more effective, then we should consider continuing (the city’s participation in Urban Shield),” Worthington said.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín declined to comment on Urban Shield until Tuesday’s meeting.

BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel said he hopes the council votes to continue the city’s partnership with Urban Shield. Frankel added that the officers who participate in Urban Shield bring the skills they learn to different divisions of policing, including detective work, de-escalation, and crisis intervention training.

Training from the Urban Shield program has been proven to save lives at a number of different events in Berkeley, including the 2015 balcony collapse at the Library Gardens apartment complex, according to Frankel.

“There is no substitute for this invaluable experiential-based training,” said UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich in an email. “It is helping us to better prepare and respond to potential threats so we can keep our community safe.

Former Berkeley Police Review Commissioner Alison Bernstein said BPD has many issues, but over-militarization is not one of them.

“I don’t think four days of Urban Shield training will undo the hours and hours of excellent de-escalation and crisis intervention training BPD receives,” Bernstein said.

Berkeley Police Review Commissioner George Lippman, on the other hand, said he would like BPD to find an alternative to Urban Shield.

Lippman critiqued the way Urban Shield trains police primarily for rare high-pressure situations instead of preparing them for the everyday work they do in the community.

“(Urban Shield) is (a) conduit for militaristic responses (and) SWAT team training that we may not need,” Lippman said. “If you determine policy based on 1 percent (of likely) outcomes instead of (the) 99 percent, that skews (the) policy.”

Bulmaro Vicente, a Berkeley Police Review Commissioner and former ASUC Senator, authored an ASUC resolution calling on UCPD to pull out of Urban Shield in 2016. Though the resolution passed in the ASUC Senate, UCPD continued its participation in the program.

Vicente, however, continues to advocate against the city’s partnership with Urban Shield.

“(I) believe it’s really important to listen to community members and pull out of Urban Shield,” Vicente said. “(I’m) looking forward to seeing what occurs Tuesday night.”

Contact Rachael Cornejo at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @RachaelCornejo.

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  • Tracyrose

    Urban Shield is funded by UASI and UASI and all things related to it, are on the agenda. And the mayor and two other council members have indicated the item will be discussed. Why don’t you discuss the merits of the issue instead of engaging in procedural obfuscation? Good government is not based on playing procedural games, it’s based on transparency, accountability to the community that elected you, integrity, and dealing with what is front of you. I firmly expect the Council to exercise those attributes tomorrow night.

  • Tizzie Lish

    Here is a link to tomorrow, June 20th, council meeting. Urban Shield is not on the agenda.
    http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Clerk/City_Council/2017/06_June/City_Council__06-20-2017_-_Special_Meeting_Agenda.aspx

  • Tracyrose
  • Tracyrose

    The reporter spoke to the mayor and another council person directly. That should be clear enough for the poster below. I would like to believe that Urban Shield will consider changes, but the evidence is that despite the convening of a very large task force in Alameda County back in January, there has been no effective motion towards significant changes yet. There should be evidence of real changes happening before any further participation. The status quo is not acceptable.

    • Tizzie Lish

      The mayor likely spoke in fuzzy politician lingo because the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting clearly does not include Urban Shield. And the way Berkeley government workds, the agenda has to be posted in advance. Jesse likes to think he is now king and can rule by his personal opinion but democratic governance forms prevail.

  • Tizzie Lish

    Did this reporter actually look at the city website and read the agenda for tomorrow, June 20th, council agenda? Urban Shield is not on the agenda tomorrow.

    – June 20 is NOT about Urban Shield. It is about the UASI and NCRIC agreements and the armored van — they are different!

    Look
    at the agenda on the Berkeley Council web site. The BPA announcement about Urban Shield should to be clarified.

    People should still
    be asked to show up, but they should be ready to speak against the UASI and NCRIC police agreements
    and the armored van – not to Urban Shield – even though they are
    related. There
    is political maneuvering going on and seeding confusion by proclaiming that Urban Shield is on the agenda tomorrow enables the cops and others who want militarization of our police.

    Get the facts right. They still teach that in J-school, I hope.