Councilmembers hold community forum to discuss police department’s participation in Urban Shield

Heather Feibleman/Staff

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Berkeley City Councilmembers Cheryl Davila and Kate Harrison hosted a community forum Monday to discuss the issue of law enforcement militarization and Berkeley Police Department’s use of Urban Shield.

The forum took place at The Way Christian Center about 6 p.m. and allowed community members to voice their opinions on Urban Shield, a program that provides training and crisis-simulation exercises to Bay Area officers, according to a presentation given by Tash Nguyen, a local advocate at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Urban Shield programs are funded by Urban Areas Security Initiative, or UASI, which provides financial assistance for training, equipment and planning in urban areas to prevent, respond to and recover from terrorism, according to the Homeland Security Grants website.

BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood, who also attended the forum, said Urban Shield provides invaluable training to officers for potential urgent scenarios. According to Greenwood, these scenarios include active shooters, explosions and terrorist attacks. He added that these scenarios are “based on speculation,” and BPD is unable to predict how likely it would be for these incidents to occur.

“Urban Shield is an important emergency response and emergency preparedness training,” Greenwood said. “(Urban Shield) preparedness efforts not only work with the police department but the fire department and other departments as well. … The trainings have been valuable.”

But Davila said at the meeting that she believes that BPD does not need terrorist training because Berkeley community members are not terrorists.

Mohamed Shehk — media communications director of the organization Critical Resistance, which is part of the Stop Urban Shield Coalition — said he hoped the forum would reveal the dangers of federally funded programs such as Urban Shield.

“We’re working to put an end to Urban Shield because we see the ways that it fundamentally represents and embodies the targeting and criminalization of communities of color through expanding militarization and the power of policing,” Shehk alleged.

Nguyen said at the meeting that Urban Shield-trained SWAT officials were deployed for serving search, arrest and parole warrants 57 percent of the time in 2014-15 — none of the incidents they responded to were terrorist-related. According to an American Civil Liberties Union investigation that Nguyen shared at the meeting, 39 percent of Urban Shield-trained SWAT deployments impacted Black people in 2011-12 — the most impacted racial group in that time frame.

Images of an Urban Shield training session in 2014 were displayed during the meeting that portrayed the victim dolls as white but the terrorist doll as a bearded man.

Pastor Mike McBride of The Way Christian Center, who also attended the forum, emphasized the importance of hosting the event in order to address issues of inequality and accountability.

“One of the most progressive things we can do to reverse the policing in this country is having the model here in Berkeley,” McBride said. “We need to make sure our city is not known for militarization but for peacemaking.”

City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to continue using Urban Shield at its regular meeting April 25.

Contact Jessíca Jiménez at [email protected] and and follow her on Twitter at @jesscajimenez_dc.