As an Emergency Medical Service volunteer roleplayer recruiter for Urban Shield 2017 and participant in the city’s Community Emergency Response Team, I have seen the value of this program to the Berkeley community firsthand. Simulating a response to a disaster or critical event with first responders from other jurisdictions is crucial to our ability to act quickly and effectively to save lives and reduce harm. I urge City Council to vote to continue Berkeley Police Department’s participation in Urban Shield this Tuesday.
There are several misperceptions about Urban Shield that need to be addressed.
First, participating in Urban Shield does not militarize our police. Berkeley police officers are actively trained in de-escalation and conflict resolution and put these skills to use in Urban Shield exercises. Berkeley police have also led the way in the region in crisis intervention training to better address mental illness and other sensitive issues that requires a variety of skills for an effective response.
Second, Urban Shield exercises are relevant to much more than just SWAT and military teams. They are also relevant to community members. Doctors from local hospitals participate. Social workers, teachers, families and even children participate, although they must participate during daytime hours. The exercises help law enforcement and other participants learn how to conduct themselves in circumstances when seconds matter and that a wrong move can jeopardize lives. Everyone benefits when more of us are prepared.
Third, Urban Shield does not encourage profiling or race-oriented policing. Participants in Urban Shield never leave a team member behind because of racial or ethnic background. The purpose of the program is to save lives — regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation or any other factor.
Fourth, Urban Shield does not encourage immigration deportation. Common scenarios involve active shooters, bombings, water excavation and sex trafficking. The focus is on natural disasters and criminal activity that put people at risk. Immigration status is a non-factor. I support both Urban Shield and Berkeley’s status as a sanctuary city. There is no contradiction in these views.
Berkeley police and other law enforcement and public safety professionals deserve to receive the same level of training and professional development as our peers in neighboring departments. Police officers should have the opportunity to train with others — including EMS and nurses — who have experience saving lives and protect people in cases of mass catastrophe. Our professionals should be exposed to new technologies and best practices. Shouldn’t Berkeley be as prepared as possible?
During my most recent active shooter drill, I was privileged to be able to participate alongside friends from the Berkeley Community Emergency Response Team and other public safety professionals. I was amazed at how Berkeley police officers responded to the simulation. During the drill, Berkeley police participants were caring and supportive while I was playing the role of an injured person. One officer stayed with me and held my hand and comforted me for a lengthy period of time. He made it difficult for me to scream as I would ordinarily do. Even though this was only a drill, the officer showed care and compassion toward me and others.
Rather than divide, Urban Shield exercises reinforce what brings us together. We all would like help and to have someone save our lives or the life of a loved one if they were ever in jeopardy, whatever the cause. And we should all want our public safety professionals to be as prepared as possible for multiple scenarios. It’s easy to think that the worst incident won’t happen in Berkeley, but we cannot take our past luck for granted. An active shooter or otherwise violent individual can strike anywhere for any reason. So can natural disasters that have no culprit but can still result in significant harm.
City Council should reauthorize Berkeley police participation in Urban Shield and reject efforts to change the scope and substance of the program.
Christine Schwartz is an Urban Shield EMS Volunteer Recruiter and a Berkeley city resident.