Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín delivers State of the City address amid Stop Urban Shield protest

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Mayor Jesse Arreguín talked about Berkeley’s educational programs, homelessness crisis and income inequality at his State of the City address Monday while activists from the Stop Urban Shield coalition protested outside.

Several people held signs during the event to protest Arreguín’s vote recommending the continuation of police participation in Urban Shield, a training program for police and other response teams. Arreguín previously voted against the recommendation, but he rescinded his vote after discovering “legal constraints” preventing City Council from directing the Berkeley Police Department, according to a blog post he wrote.

“Our goal is to let people know that the City Council does have the authority to set policy and practice for the police department,” said Stop Urban Shield coalition activist John Lindsay-Poland. “The mayor should change his position because he says that he has issues with Urban Shield, and the only reason he changed his position was this legal argument — and the legal argument is unfounded.”

Criticisms of Urban Shield include the program’s arming of police with military-style weapons, allegedly racist merchandise sold at its vendor show, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, involvement in the program. Proponents of the program say it helps with preparedness for events such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

Arreguín did not mention Urban Shield during his speech, but he spoke with The Daily Californian afterward to address the issue. He said the reason he does not support withdrawing BPD from the program is the effect that not participating will have on the city’s response to crises such as mass shootings.

“What do we say to our community when there’s a shooting at Berkeley High School?” Arreguín said. “That, you know, we didn’t want our police to be trained because we didn’t like (Urban Shield), but we didn’t provide them an alternative?”

Despite his misgivings about Urban Shield, such as the vendor show’s sale of military-style weapons, Arreguín noted that there are no alternative team-focused programs at the moment to address mass shootings and other crises. He said the council will be working with Alameda County, which created Urban Shield in 2007, to implement different reforms for the program.

BPD is going through a “significant staffing shortage,” according to Arreguín’s speech. During the speech, he emphasized his commitment to funding and supporting BPD as needed to recruit and retain more police officers.

In his address, Arreguín also commended Berkeley’s 2020 Vision, an educational program that he said in his speech has helped close the “achievement gap” along racial lines.

Arreguín praised the opening of the long-anticipated Pathways STAIR navigation center — a year-round, low-barrier homeless shelter in West Berkeley.

“While housing costs have risen dramatically, wages have also not increased,” Arreguín said in his speech regarding income inequality in Berkeley.

Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who voted to continue BPD participation in Urban Shield, said the council might violate the city’s charter if it pulls BPD out of Urban Shield and that those decisions would be in the city manager’s jurisdiction, not the council’s. She did say, however, that she is not a lawyer and may be wrong.

Arreguín may be citing legal constraints for his vote switch because of a 2017 lawsuit against City Council, according to Councilmember Ben Bartlett. The lawsuit resulted in the city paying $44,000 in attorney fees.

“Despite the tremendous challenges facing our nation and our city right now, I remain hopeful for Berkeley’s future,” Arreguín said. “We have risen to the occasion over this past year and begun work to address the long-standing challenges of affordability, inequality, poverty and opportunity.”

Contact Jackson Guilfoil and Alyssa Bernardino at [email protected].