Albany police pull out of agreement to purchase armored vehicle with UCPD and BPD

Rae Zhuang/Staff

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According to an Albany City Council member, the Albany Police Department has decided to back out of an agreement with Berkeley Police Department and UCPD to purchase an armored vehicle through a federal grant.

The $170,000 federal grant to purchase a Lenco BearCat will come from the Urban Areas Security Initiative, a Department of Homeland Security nonprofit organization that is intended to financially support agencies that are at high risk of a terrorist attack with “security enhancements.”

The BearCat is used by many military and law enforcement agencies. According to former Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, the Albany, Berkeley and UC Berkeley departments only intend to use the vehicle for “active shooters, barricaded subjects and rescuing individuals.”
But many city and campus community members have raised concerns over the vehicle being used in protest situations, citing the armored vehicle previously used by Oakland police to break up the May 1 Occupy Oakland protest.

According to Albany City Councilmember Robert Lieber, Albany police backed out of the agreement because they deemed the vehicle “inappropriate for the uses for their police department in a civilian setting.”

Albany police could not be reached for comment, and both UCPD and the Berkeley police said that it would not be appropriate for them to speculate or speak about another agency’s decision regarding the vehicle.

At the June 26 Berkeley City Council meeting, several council members raised concerns about the involvement of Berkeley police in purchasing the vehicle.

“I think we ought to turn this thing back in,” said Councilmember Max Anderson at the meeting. “If there are more useful items that Homeland Security wants to offer us … then we should take advantage of those, but not a vehicle with this kind of dual-use capability.”

Dozens of Berkeley residents also spoke against the vehicle during public comment.

“What the hell business does a university have in keeping a vehicle of this nature on its campus?” said David Collins at the meeting.

The council voted unanimously at the meeting to request additional information regarding the vehicle from the city manager.

UC Berkeley students have also raised concerns over purchasing the vehicle. Former two-term Cooperative Movement Senator Elliot Goldstein started an online petition shortly after hearing about UCPD’s plans to partake in purchasing the vehicle.

According to Goldstein, not only is the use of a military-grade vehicle on a college campus inappropriate, but the lack of transparency by local police throughout the application process also raises additional concerns over UCPD protocol in cases of weaponry acquisition.

Goldstein’s petition currently has more than 600 signatures, and he said he also hopes to organize a meeting between students, campus administrators and police to discuss purchasing the vehicle publicly.

“My goal is to first make this follow a democratic process and get people to realize that this is happening in a problematic way,” Goldstein said.