Community raises concern with Berkeley police, UCPD involvement in Occupy Oakland

Berkeley community members have raised concern with local police agencies’ involvement at Occupy Oakland Tuesday when police evicted demonstrators in the morning and deployed tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bang canisters in the night.

Berkeley Police Department and UCPD, along with at least 10 other agencies, were called in Tuesday after the Oakland Police Department requested mutual aid through the Alameda County Mutual Aid Coordinator, a facilitating entity that gathers officers from numerous law enforcement agencies throughout the county.

According to Berkeley police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, BPD’s involvement at Occupy Oakland was “minimal,” and the department sent 12 officers, two sergeants and one lieutenant to the demonstration Tuesday night, none of whom were involved in the deployment of tear gas or any other form of nonlethal force.

“We served as outer perimeter and traffic control,” Kusmiss said in an email.

UCPD Lt. Alex Yao would not release the number of officers UCPD sent but said they were on post at around 4  a.m. on Tuesday and played a “supportive role” in Oakland’s operation by providing perimeter support. He said that to the best of his knowledge, UCPD officers were not involved in the use of non-lethal force.

In a letter from City Manager Phil Kamlarz addressed to Mayor Tom Bates and the Berkeley City Council members, Kamlarz said the Oakland department’s request for aid was made on the basis of an “inability to address the situation with internal resources.”

But the sheer presence of the local police at the demonstration has not sat well with some.

During public comment at the council’s Tuesday meeting, Berkeley resident George Lippman said BPD’s involvement at Occupy Oakland was not aligned with Berkeley’s values.

“We have to look carefully at how we operate within the mutual aid pacts,” he said at the meeting.  “We should find a way not … to support the repression of what really is a peaceful, nonviolent initiative.”

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said the broader issue with Berkeley’s involvement in the Oakland operation could be a question of whether it is appropriate for mutual aid to put Berkeley police in Oakland when there might not be a real public safety threat.

“It’s important that we take a pretty close look … so that we’re not using mutual aid agreements as a pretense to break up demonstrations,” he said.

According to Alameda County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. J.D. Nelson, the amount of aid requested is determined by the requesting agency. Nelson said Oakland requested 500 officers, though not all at the same time. Aside from fuel, food and lodging, the responding agencies are responsible for expenses in this situation, he said.