The Stop Urban Shield Coalition released a 2017 Report Card on Friday alleging that militarization, racism and surveillance are the core issues plaguing the responder training program known as Urban Shield.
Urban Shield is a highly contentious program that provides training for first responders in the Bay Area to improve preparedness for critical situations. Berkeley Police Department currently uses Urban Shield, and BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood said in a report to Berkeley City Council on June 20 that the program’s training exercises are comprehensive and educational. BPD, however, has faced criticism due to allegations that the program leads to hypermilitarization and racist and xenophobic behavior.
The coalition’s report card was released before the Alameda County Urban Shield Task Force’s final meeting that same day. The 18 members of the task force, whose goal was to assess the impacts of Urban Shield, compiled the information used in the report card based on their observations made about the program since the task force’s establishment in January.
In its report, the coalition gave Urban Shield a grade of F in three of the five concern categories: militarization, racism/xenophobia/culture and surveillance. In the remaining two categories — financial interests and de-escalation — the report gave Urban Shield an “extremely poor” rating.
Because of the controversy surrounding Alameda County Sheriff’s Office hosting of Urban Shield, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors passed 12 guidelines the program must follow. The report, however, found Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in noncompliance with “the majority” of these guidelines. For instance, the report found that the office was not compliant with the guideline to be free of surveillance training, alleging that the office has used surveillance drones.
BPD could not be reached for comment as of press time.
City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said in an email, however, that the city’s position on Urban Shield is outlined in Greenwood’s report to City Council.
“Terrorist, mass casualty, and active shooter incidents continue to occur in the US and around the world; without warning,” Greenwood said in the report. “To that end, it is vitally important for our officers and firefighters to be as prepared as possible when called upon to respond.”
Task force member John Lindsay-Poland observed Urban Shield activities for three days at the beginning of September. He said he was critical of Urban Shield before observing the program firsthand but added that he now believes even more strongly in finding alternative approaches to emergency preparedness.
“The main frame for emergency preparedness should not be counterterrorism,” Lindsay-Poland said. “It should be for risks that the county faces.”
Councilmember Kate Harrison said Urban Shield observers from her office reported on a training scenario that involved Hezbollah, an Islamist militant group and political party based in Lebanon, coming from the Middle East and taking over a U.S. facility. Lindsay-Poland, who observed this exercise firsthand, called it a “wartime protocol.” Harrison said such exercises do not reflect the type of real-world counterterrorism measures that must be taken.
“I don’t want my police militarized,” Harrison said. “They have such an important community role, and I don’t want to see that (militarization) happen.”
Berkeley Police Review Commission Chair George Lippman said the PRC will be looking into Urban Shield and making a recommendation regarding the program to City Council by December.
“I think that what was observed at the (Urban Shield) events raises significant questions and establishes a steep road for the organizers of Urban Shield to climb in order to create an event that is positive, that is cleansed of militarism and oriented toward de-escalation where possible,” Lippman said.