Subcommittee passes initial vote to pull Berkeley police out of aspects of Urban Shield program

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Some Berkeley City Council members passed an initial vote in an ad hoc subcommittee to withdraw the Berkeley Police Department from certain aspects of the controversial Urban Shield training program.

Four members of the council held a preliminary vote June 4 to prevent Berkeley from participating in the tactical scenario exercises and vendor exhibitions of Urban Shield for 2018. Mayor Jesse Arreguín and City Councilmembers Kate Harrison and Cheryl Davila voted for this change, while Councilmember Susan Wengraf was the sole dissenter.

The subcommittee’s vote did not end Berkeley’s participation in the scenarios and vendor ceremony, but it did put the idea forth for a vote at the July 24 City Council meeting, according to Harrison.

“We have more people like random shooters — the scenarios didn’t focus on that. International terrorism is not one of the most likely threats,” said Harrison, who was concerned that the training does not reflect Berkeley’s city-specific security fears.

In order to participate in the tactical drills, officers have to go to the vendor show, where various firearm and security technology companies show off their wares. According to Wengraf, the vendor show is a necessary part of the program because it familiarizes officers with the equipment they will use in the tactical drills.

If the entire council votes similarly in July, BPD will be barred from those parts of Urban Shield but will continue to participate in aspects such as the color-coded emergency command system, according to Harrison. Many of the disaster response programs are still in place for BPD and other emergency departments, such as Berkeley Fire Department, Harrison noted.

UCPD also participates in Urban Shield, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, who noted that UCPD will continue to participate in the program.

“The City Council’s decision doesn’t have any impact on UCPD,” Mogulof said.

In a report last year, Stop Urban Shield alleged that Urban Shield’s core issues include police militarization and racism.

BPD could not be reached as of press time.

Wengraf wants to see evidence that Urban Shield militarizes Berkeley police and said “there should be plenty of data” given that BPD has used Urban Shield for 10 years.

“It’s naive to think that any place is immune to a terrorist attack,” Wengraf said. “I, for one, would like our police to be trained and prepared to deal with whatever.”

Berkeley’s Police Review Commission, or PRC, has voted repeatedly over the past six years in favor of BPD continuing to use all aspects of Urban Shield. However, that changed as of last December.

“(PRC) put forward a recommendation that BPD cease participation in Urban Shield activity in 2018 and create alternatives to replace positive elements of Urban Shield,” said George Perezvelez, the acting chair of the PRC.

Contact Jackson Guilfoil at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @GuilfoilJackson.