City Council postpones mutual aid to special meeting

Ashley Chen/Staff
Community members gathered outside of the City hall to protest against the mutual aid agreement under debate at the Tuesday night meeting.

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At its meeting Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council voted to postpone discussion of the city’s contentious mutual aid pact until next week despite a large gathering of city and Bay Area residents who attended to speak about the pact.

Councilmembers said the meeting agenda was “arduous” and there would not be enough time to discuss every item if the mutual aid pact was included. The pact, along with the redistricting charter amendment ballot measure, will be discussed at a special meeting on May 22 at 8 p.m.

The city’s mutual aid pact is a set of agreements between Berkeley and other security and law enforcement agencies that provides outside assistance when one agency lacks sufficient resources to address a situation. The pact’s five individual agreements were last brought to the council’s attention in November for reapproval, an annual procedure required by the city’s Municipal Code, but the council requested they be held for further review in light of the controversy surrounding recent protests.

The Berkeley Police Review Commission proposed changes to the pact in April after concerns were raised over the Berkeley Police Department’s involvement at Occupy Oakland last fall, when officers from other departments deployed tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bang canisters against protesters.

Prior to the  meeting, about 35 members of Occupy Berkeley and the Coalition for a Safer Berkeley gathered for a rally outside the council chambers. According to a coalition press release, the organization recommends the city “not enter any Federal mutual aid or intelligence gathering program which is not put in writing” or form “secret agreements.”

The coalition is also asking the city not to renew the mutual aid pact until it includes specific wording regarding response policies, as well as allowing peaceful protest, “limiting ICE detainers to specific situations” and stopping “the police arms race” by limiting the types of weapons that may be used by officers. According to a press release, the coalition believes amending the mutual aid agreement is the city’s “opportunity to reaffirm Berkeley’s commitment as a City of Refuge,” as well as “increase civilian oversight of local police.”

Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin were present at the rally and encouraged those present to express their views on the mutual aid agreements to the council.

“We need to make sure that police respect Berkeley’s values,” Arreguin said. “We go to other cities to break up protests. This has to stop.”

Arreguin also made recommendations to the mutual aid agreements in February, namely altering the city’s 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.

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

According to Sharon Adams, an attorney and member of the coalition, the revised mutual aid agreement would “ensure that there is transparency between the police department and the city of Berkeley.”

While those gathered at the rally expressed concern over police aid from other departments — some by holding signs reading “No Oakland Cops” —  all who spoke addressed Berkeley police officers’ treatment of immigrants and an alleged threat to the city’s sanctuary city status, as well as concerns over intelligence gathering and an increased use of weapons by officers.

Although the proposed revision to the mutual aid agreements called for prohibiting Berkeley police from complying with federal orders to hold inmates, the council has suggested the department must comply if the arrestee has “previously been convicted of a serious crime or violent felony offense” or been arrested for either crime in the last five years.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Berkeley Police Department officers deployed tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bang canisters against demonstrators at Occupy Oakland on Oct. 25 and Nov. 2 of last year. In fact, the department has stated that their officers only acted as outer perimeter security on both dates and were not involved in the use of tear gas or any other form of crowd suppression.