Berkeley City Council to discuss police department’s mutual aid agreements with local agencies

On the two nights in the past two weeks when tear gas was deployed on Occupy Oakland protesters, the Berkeley Police Department was called to the scene.

Up to 15 Berkeley police personnel supported the Oakland Police Department on both nights as part of the department’s mutual aid pact — a set of agreements between BPD and other security and law enforcement agencies that provides outside aid when an agency lacks sufficient resources to address a situation.

The Berkeley department’s presence in Oakland has brought the pacts under question as they are set to be approved by the Berkeley City Council at its Tuesday meeting.

Following the Oct. 25 tear gassing incident, Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said Berkeley’s involvement in the Oakland operation raises the 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. He said the pacts must be examined to ensure they are not being used as a pretext to break up demonstrations.

According to the state’s Law Enforcement Mutual Aid Plan, it is the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office’s responsibility as the mutual aid coordinating entity for the area to “evaluate requests for assistance from local agencies.”

The mutual aid coordinator “justifies the need for ordered resources and monitors the length of time the resources will be deployed” and “periodically evaluates the justification and commitment of the local agency of these resources,” according to the state plan.

Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. J.D. Nelson said that in general, when an agency calls to request mutual aid, the mutual aid coordinator does not spend very much time justifying the agency’s request before it gathers the resources, though they may review the request after the fact to determine whether the situation warranted the supplied resources.

“If they’re saying they need help because they’re afraid it’s going to turn bad, we’re going send people,” he said. “You don’t have time to lollygag.”

According to Nelson, Oakland police requested 750 officers Nov. 2, though the coordinating agency only delivered 462. He said that as that event folded, the number of necessary officers was downgraded.

According to Berkeley police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, Berkeley sent 10 officers, two sergeants and one lieutenant to Occupy Oakland on Nov. 2, and 12 officers, two sergeants and one lieutenant to the demonstration Oct. 25. Kusmiss said in an email that the Berkeley police acted as outer perimeter security in both incidences and were not involved in the use of tear  gas or any other form of nonlethal force.

Councilmember Susan Wengraf said she hopes the council approves the pacts.

“It’s a two-way street,” Wengraf said. “If we don’t participate, we won’t get that mutual aid … The benefits outweigh the negatives.”

Beyond the question of mutual aid’s implementation, it is unclear whether the most recently approved mutual aid policies are still in effect. According to city documents, the last time the mutual aid pacts were approved by the City Council was April 20, 2010, though city ordinance requires annual approval of the pacts.

The agreements approved in April 2010 say that the council grants the authority for BPD to participate in mutual aid in accordance with the Berkeley Municipal Code.

“No such agreement, understanding or policy shall be valid or effective for more than one year following City Council approval, but each may be renewed or extended following the disclosure, public hearing and documentation procedures,” the code reads.

According to a recommendation from the Berkeley Police Review Commission to the council at its Sept. 20 meeting, the approval concerns the police department’s mutual aid pacts for 2010 — which the commission voted to send to the council July 27. The recommendation for Tuesday’s meeting does not specify whether the pact is for 2010 or 2011.

Sarah Burns is the lead crime reporter.