Berkeley City Council moves forward with mutual aid pact

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The Berkeley City Council heard from community members regarding its contentious mutual aid pact before deciding to move forward with the pact at its special meeting Tuesday night.

After hearing city residents’ worries over possible increased militarization in the city and suppression of civil rights during the public comment portion of the meeting, the council added amendments to the pact and directed the city manager to return with the changes incorporated in the pact for approval come September.

The pact was last brought to the council’s attention last November for reapproval — an annual procedure required by the Berkeley Municipal Code — but was postponed at council meetings over the course of a few months in the spring.

“I beg you to look at what is happening in this country and do what you can to reverse it,” said city resident Sydney Vilen.

The city’s mutual aid pact is a set of agreements between the Berkeley Police Department and other nearby security and law enforcement agencies to provide outside assistance when one agency lacks sufficient resources to address a situation.

Citizens also brought up the issue of the possibility of an armored vehicle — which UCPD, Berkeley Police Department and Albany Police Department recently partnered to seek funding for in hopes of sharing the vehicle during times when safety of the public is threatened.

The agencies plan to receive funding from the Urban Areas Security Initiative, a Department of Homeland Security nonprofit organization that is intended to financially support agencies in high risk of a terrorist attack with “security enhancements.”

“Please stay out of this urban warfare stuff,” said Berkeley resident and Occupy protester Daniel Borgström. “I mean it may sound great on paper, but the way it works, they shoot at people.”

Council members hope to increase transparency regarding the armored vehicle by having the Berkeley Police Department provide a report to the council about its involvement with the initiative, such as funding requested from the organization and training the department would participate in.

Residents also voiced concerns at the special meeting over possible limitations in free speech, surveillance of community members and unlawful detainment of immigrants in the city that would be a consequence of the passage of certain agreements in the mutual aid pact.

“Right now being undocumented is sadly a lot like being black in the age of slavery in the United States,” said Berkeley resident Pablo Perez. “What they do is circumvent that they are innocent until proven guilty.”

Council members also set limitations at the meeting on the circumstances under which suspicious activity reports could be submitted to the council during instances in which individuals or groups have been charged with crimes, exempting reports about nonviolent civil disobedience offenses.

The suspicious activity reports are part of 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 the reports.

“I think we tried to do our best on the guidelines, but we want them reviewed constantly and not just by people who are part of the police or Homeland Security,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “It should be civilians (reviewing them as well).”

As part of its annual report, the Berkeley Police Department would also have to present a report to the city’s Police Review Commission and the council when mutual aid is requested. Mayor Tom Bates suggested sharing the mutual aid pact policies to surrounding Bay Area cities to gain further input on the city’s policies.

“If we do adopt these policies, which I think we probably will in September, I think it’s important for us to convey these policy changes to our surrounding neighborhoods and cities,” Bates said. “We’re all in this together.”