Berkeley City Council votes to keep police department in Urban Shield during special meeting

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Alvin Wu/File

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Berkeley City Council voted to keep the Berkeley Police Department enrolled in controversial police training program Urban Shield at a special meeting convened by Mayor Jesse Arreguín on Monday.

The decision passed with a 5–4 vote, with Arreguín and Councilmembers Linda Maio, Sophie Hahn, Lori Droste and Susan Wengraf voting in support. After the vote count came in, a chorus of “shame” arose from the audience toward the council members.

At the meeting, several public commentators expressed opposition to the vote — some chanted at the council, while others held black signs that read “BPD Out of Urban Shield.”

There has been public disapproval of BPD’s continued participation in Urban Shield’s training programs, which an ad hoc city subcommittee initially voted to discontinue in mid-June. The decision changed after Arreguín rescinded his vote about two weeks later.

“I want to remind you that we’re living through a real public safety disaster,” said Pastor Michael McBride of The Way Christian Center during public comment. “This does not build the public’s confidence with law enforcement. It is actually making us less safe.”

Urban Shield is a disaster training program for emergency responders, such as police officers and emergency medical technicians. One feature of the training for police officers is bringing officers to a weapons vendor show so they can become acquainted with equipment they may use on the job.

Also at the special meeting, the council voted in favor of submitting a list of recommendations to Alameda County regarding changes to Urban Shield. Among the 14 recommendations is that police under Urban Shield not work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and that Urban Shield provide “full transparency” on what BPD officers will learn during the training procedure.

“We have spoken overwhelmingly in Berkeley,” said UC Berkeley student Alex Lee during the meeting’s public comment. “We don’t want these militaristic training tactics. We don’t want our police to be learning (that).”

Staff writer Alexandra Reinecke contributed to this report.

Contact Sakura Cannestra and Revati Thatte at [email protected].