City Council votes to allow Berkeley police to continue training in Urban Shield program

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Alvin Wu/File

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Berkeley City Council voted at a special council meeting to allow Berkeley Police Department to continue participating in the controversial Urban Shield training program Monday.

With Mayor Jesse Arreguín as the deciding vote, the motion to continue enrollment in the program passed with a 5-4 vote — Councilmembers Linda Maio, Sophie Hahn, Susan Wengraf and Lori Droste voted in favor of Urban Shield. Councilmembers Cheryl Davila, Ben Bartlett, Kate Harrison and Kriss Worthington all voted against BPD’s participation in Urban Shield.

There is a long history of public disapproval of BPD’s continued participation in Urban Shield, which an ad hoc city subcommittee initially voted to discontinue in mid-June. The decision changed after Arreguín rescinded his vote about two weeks after the subcommittee voted.

“Why would anybody deny a training that everybody agrees is the highest quality and only training available of its kind?” Wengraf said. “Why would anybody want to deny their police department that opportunity?”

According to Davila, Urban Shield focuses heavily on anti-terrorism training, which is not something she feels BPD needs. Davila cited the Center for Policing Equity’s report, which found racial disparities in BPD’s practices, and said Urban Shield only exacerbates these disparities.

Worthington said he voted against the item because of the lobbying of former ASUC external affairs vice president Rigel Robinson, current President Alexander Wilfert and current External Affairs Vice President Nuha Khalfay.

“I just hope my colleagues will really try to listen more to the community and try to put people of color that have been affected by the militarization of our police forces and put (them) in the forefront of their mind,” Davila said.  

In addition to allowing the police to participate in the program, the council also voted in favor of submitting a list of recommendations to Alameda County regarding changes to Urban Shield. Among the 14 recommendations is that police in Urban Shield be prohibited from working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and that Urban Shield provide “full transparency” on what BPD officers will learn during the training procedure.

Maio said she believes it is best to keep working with Urban Shield as a way to reform and improve it.

During the meeting, several Berkeley Fire Department members spoke on why they feel the need to keep Urban Shield implemented in the city.

According to BFD spokesperson Keith May, Urban Shield is more than the tactical training offered to police officers. The program is similar to “an umbrella, divided into commands,” which includes natural disaster preparedness training and “mass care sheltering” training.

“Participation (in) Urban Shield makes us a better police department,” said BPD spokesperson Officer Byron White. “Its training is unique and is not something we would be able to duplicate on our own.”

Contact Jessíca Jiménez and Francesca Munsayac at [email protected].