Alameda County board of supervisors votes for demilitarized emergency training

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In light of community opposition to the Urban Shield program, the Alameda County board of supervisors revoted Tuesday in a 3-2 decision to implement 60 recommendations, which were initially adopted Feb. 26, that call for demilitarized emergency response training and a community-focused response to disaster.

Created by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in 2007, the Urban Shield program was funded by the Department of Homeland Security to create a regional training exercise for emergencies and disasters that includes a weapons expo, SWAT exercises and competitive training exercises, according to a press release by Oakland Privacy.

According to the Oakland Privacy press release, the event has raised concerns over alleged racism in using human targets, the training of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, the fusion center’s alleged surveillance of individuals who were peacefully protesting the program and the alleged use of faux explosive devices in the past.

Amber Piatt, a program director for Human Impact Partners, alleged that the program has “Islamophobic roots” and relies heavily on “stereotypes of terrorists.” Media and Communications Director of Critical Resistance Mohamed Shehk also expressed his opposition to Urban Shield.

“Urban Shield is based on racism, militarization, extremely violent practices that only further marginalize our communities,” Shehk said.

According to Piatt, the Alameda board of supervisors first voted to end the Urban Shield program in March 2018. According to Supervisor Wilma Chan, the board appointed an ad hoc committee to create recommendations for ways to improve regional training.

On Feb. 26, these recommendations were voted on, and more than 50 of them passed with a 4-0 vote, according to a Stop Urban Shield Coalition press release. According to Chan, at Tuesday’s revote, 60 recommendations passed.

Chan, who voted in favor of implementing the recommendations, said she believed that there is currently a division between the community and law enforcement. According to Chan, in order to remedy this issue, there must be more community input involved in training programs.

Chan’s colleague, Supervisor Richard Valle, also voted in favor of reforming the program to increase community engagement.

“(Urban Shield) was a very exclusive event — we can do better in incorporating more public participation,” Valle said.

Shawn Wilson, the chief of staff of Supervisor Scott Haggerty, said that even though Haggerty supports “over 60 percent” of the recommendations, he still voted against them because if they passed, the funding Alameda receives for emergency and disaster training may be revoked.

According to Chan, Alameda County is going to receive a total of $2.35 million from a grant from The Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative, which will include $800,000 allocated to local emergency projects, $800,000 to regional training and $750,000 to emergency command training.

“The future is informed by whole communities focused on de-escalation and not militarization,” Shehk said.

Contact Aishwarya Kaimal at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Aishwarya_R_K‏.