On April 4, Berkeley City Council punted a decision on whether or not to continue the Urban Shield program to the next meeting. At that meeting, it punted the issue again. Then again. Then again.
It took at least four meetings before City Council finally voted June 20 to continue the program while a task force explored its viability and necessity. But this vote, too, was just putting the issue off. Now, the task force has decided it’s still not ready to make recommendations.
The urgency of this matter is beyond dispute. Police faced backlash for excessive use of force at the December 2014 Black Lives Matter protests, and most recently, at the very June 20 meeting at which city council members voted to continue Urban Shield.
Berkeley needs to make a decision now, and it needs to make the right one.
Some argue that continued participation in the training helps to prepare for large-scale disasters or other emergency situations such as terrorist attacks. But Urban Shield, funded by U.S. Department of Homeland security grants, trains and arms police with military-style weapons and ideology. Vendors at Urban Shield expos have been known to sell products with racist and violent slogans. Unbridled federal grants to local law enforcement agencies have a history of unnecessarily bolstering law enforcement’s power, to the detriment of the community.
In the coming months, Berkeley is scheduled to face several potentially violent demonstrations. Institutions on campus and in the city need to think about and prioritize proper police response, particularly as the federal government opens the door to more militarized policing.
Consider 1033, the military surplus program that provided the University of Central Florida with a grenade launcher and the UC Berkeley police force with more than a dozen M16 rifles. The flow of weapons from 1033 was heavily restricted in 2015 under the Obama administration. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that the Trump administration would soon fully restore the program.
In 2012, Elliott Currie, Berkeley resident and professor of criminology, law and society at UC Irvine, told The Daily Californian that these types of requisitions are “likely an opportunistic use of free resources.” But the city, at this point, should know better than to subscribe to a harmful program like 1033 or Urban Shield that militarizes the police and disproportionately affects people of color in Berkeley in exchange for cash.
And still, the city continues to put off the decision to end the program. The sooner Berkeley takes action to eliminate Urban Shield and looks toward alternative, community-based approaches to policing, the better. It’s September now. The task force can’t wait around, and City Council needs to vote.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.