City Council to hold special meeting to determine BPD’s participation in Urban Shield

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Berkeley City Council will hold a special meeting Tuesday to determine whether the Berkeley Police Department will continue participating in Urban Shield.

Urban Shield is a four-day annual training program that brings together police forces from the Bay Area and beyond. Events include simulations of high-pressure situations for SWAT teams and a vendor show for firearms and other policing technology sellers.

BPD has participated in Urban Shield since 2007. City Councilmember Cheryl Davila said she hopes Tuesday’s meeting will end this partnership.

“Our police officers are much needed in the community (to) keep us safe. But they need to be peace officers, not militarized,” Davila said.

The money for Urban Shield comes from United States Department of Homeland Security grants for police training that are related to terrorism prevention, response and recovery, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Tuesday’s special council meeting will determine whether Berkeley will accept these grant funds. City Council will also decide Tuesday whether BPD will purchase an armored van, the cost of which will not exceed $205,373.

John Lindsay-Poland, a member of the American Friends Service Committee — which is part of the Stop Urban Shield Coalition — said Urban Shield “highlights and privileges militarized policing” at the expense of other types of preparedness, including mental health training.

Sharif Zakout, lead organizer at the Arab Resource & Organizing Center in San Francisco, said he was concerned about possible connections between Urban Shield and Islamophobia, alleging that Urban Shield encourages the perception of different communities as “enemy combatants.”

Zakout added that Berkeley’s self-designation as a sanctuary city with its maintained participation in Urban Shield was an ironic combination, especially under the Trump administration.

“(This) program, combined with our racist administration, is going to be doing a lot more damage,” Zakout alleged.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said if BPD continues to participate in Urban Shield, the city of Berkeley needs to take a leading role in improving the program.

“If (Urban Shield is) willing to consider changes to make it more effective, then we should consider continuing (the city’s participation in Urban Shield),” Worthington said.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín declined to comment on Urban Shield until Tuesday’s meeting.

BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel said he hopes the council votes to continue the city’s partnership with Urban Shield. Frankel added that the officers who participate in Urban Shield bring the skills they learn to different divisions of policing, including detective work, de-escalation, and crisis intervention training.

Training from the Urban Shield program has been proven to save lives at a number of different events in Berkeley, including the 2015 balcony collapse at the Library Gardens apartment complex, according to Frankel.

“There is no substitute for this invaluable experiential-based training,” said UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich in an email. “It is helping us to better prepare and respond to potential threats so we can keep our community safe.

Former Berkeley Police Review Commissioner Alison Bernstein said BPD has many issues, but over-militarization is not one of them.

“I don’t think four days of Urban Shield training will undo the hours and hours of excellent de-escalation and crisis intervention training BPD receives,” Bernstein said.

Berkeley Police Review Commissioner George Lippman, on the other hand, said he would like BPD to find an alternative to Urban Shield.

Lippman critiqued the way Urban Shield trains police primarily for rare high-pressure situations instead of preparing them for the everyday work they do in the community.

“(Urban Shield) is (a) conduit for militaristic responses (and) SWAT team training that we may not need,” Lippman said. “If you determine policy based on 1 percent (of likely) outcomes instead of (the) 99 percent, that skews (the) policy.”

Bulmaro Vicente, a Berkeley Police Review Commissioner and former ASUC Senator, authored an ASUC resolution calling on UCPD to pull out of Urban Shield in 2016. Though the resolution passed in the ASUC Senate, UCPD continued its participation in the program.

Vicente, however, continues to advocate against the city’s partnership with Urban Shield.

“(I) believe it’s really important to listen to community members and pull out of Urban Shield,” Vicente said. “(I’m) looking forward to seeing what occurs Tuesday night.”

Contact Rachael Cornejo at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @RachaelCornejo.