In its final meeting, the Ad Hoc Committee on Urban Shield approved a report Wednesday containing recommendations for the replacement of Alameda County’s controversial Urban Shield program, which will be reviewed and voted on by the county’s board of supervisors Feb. 26.
The report included recommendations to eliminate “military-type” SWAT teams and competition from exercises, remove the “Urban Shield” label, ban the weapons expo/vendor show component and allocate $5 million of funding to the Health Care Services Agency and Social Services Agency to perform emergency preparedness training and exercises.
Stop Urban Shield, a coalition of grassroots community and social justice organizations, was created in 2013 to oppose Urban Shield, an Alameda County police training program that prepares first responders for critical situations. Stop Urban Shield spokesperson Mohamed Shehk said the recommendations reflect what the coalition believes in — that Urban Shield cannot be made “less violent” and “less racist.”
“All in all, the recommendations signal a decisive shift for how Alameda County should prepare for emergencies and disasters,” Shehk said. “It’s a shift away from the sheriff’s model of police militarization and a shift toward effective disaster preparedness that works with communities and not against them.”
Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, or ACSO, spokesperson Sgt. Ray Kelly said that previously, there were a few concerns about Urban Shield regarding community involvement and people of color. He added that the board should reach common ground to address these concerns and make sure the replacement program is inclusive toward everyone.
Though ACSO did not have much of a problem with most of the recommendations, it found a few recommendations concerning, according to Kelly — including one advising that Urban Shield should not be hosted around Sept. 11, one suggesting the complete elimination of SWAT teams from training and one proposing the types of uniforms and equipment allowed for training. He added that ACSO felt that some of the mentioned recommendations were “overreaching.”
“We want members of the community to feel included in Urban Shield — we don’t want communities feeling that they are somehow being targeted by Urban Shield training,” Kelly said. “Our opponents have somehow made this program controversial, when all we were trying to do was to train for man-made natural disasters (and) terrorism events while trying to provide the best trainings to first responders to protect our community.”
Amber Piatt, a representative of the Public Health Justice Collective, said the organization is “very impressed” with the ad hoc committee’s process in approving the recommendations, which have a large cumulative impact, she added.
From a public health perspective, Piatt said, emergency preparedness should address how community members can withstand and recover from climate-based natural disasters.
“We need to return to a time that we had before — where we weren’t focused on militarization and, instead, really focused on preparing the most marginalized community members among us to be able to withstand and recover from disasters,” Piatt said.