Contention raised over pact guaranteeing aid

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The Berkeley City Council is set to consider next month whether to reapprove an agreement with an information-sharing agency some say could facilitate racial and ethnic profiling.

The agreement the council will consider at its May 15 meeting is part of the city of Berkeley’s mutual aid pact  — a set of agreements between law enforcement and security agencies that ensures outside aid when one agency’s resources are insufficient.

The pact was thrust into the spotlight last fall when it brought the Berkeley Police Department to Occupy Oakland on a night when officers from other departments deployed tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bang canisters against demonstrators.

At its April 11 meeting, the Berkeley Police Review Commission approved the pacts to be sent to the council for ultimate approval.

One of the changes made between the pact the commission approved and the one that was last approved by the council came in part from a set of recommendations presented by Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin in response to the controversy.

Arreguin proposed the recommendations to the council in February, but they were tabled after council members and city officials said they did not have enough time to review them.

Among the recommendations, Arreguin suggested altering the agreement with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center — a fusion center through which the city provides information on civil disobedience to the federal government in the form of suspicious activity reports.

Arreguin’s proposal suggested limiting the circumstances under which suspicious activity reports be submitted to NCRIC to instances in which individuals or groups have been charged with crimes, exempting reports about nonviolent civil disobedience offenses.

“I personally don’t think we should have an agreement with NCRIC,” Arreguin said. “But if that agreement exists we have to establish more limiting circumstances … so there are more safeguards in place.”

George Lippman, the head of a Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, said the circumstances surrounding past suspicious activity reports have suggested that they lead to the profiling because if the police department thinks a person is suspicious based on race, religion or political action, they are more likely to file a suspicious activity report against them even if they have not committed a crime.

“These allegations can follow the person for the rest of their lives, for example, people who are placed on the no-fly list,” Lippman said. “There should be high levels of accountability and transparency in policing that assess the values of our community.”

Furthermore, Arreguin said, there has not been enough clarification as to what constitutes a suspicious activity.

This could be indicative of a larger issue with the mutual aid system.

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.

“We are providing aid to Oakland and UCPD when they are handing over innocent people to immigration and breaking up political demonstrations when they are peaceful,” Arreguin said.  “This is not what Berkeley is about.”