Berkeley’s contract with Motorola Solutions was rushed, lacked transparency

CITY AFFAIRS: In order to update emergency radio services, Berkeley City Council voted to take a deal with Motorola Solutions, which has financial ties to ICE.

Illustration of Berkeley in a snowglobe with radio waves coming from the outside and cracking the dome
Amanda Tsang/Staff

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A bargain is tempting, but some things are worth more than money. On Sep. 28, Berkeley City Council chose to approve a deal with Motorola Solutions to update a radio system for emergency services. This deal will only save a city with a budget of more than $500 million for the 2022 fiscal year about $1 million. In exchange, it had to give up some of the Berkeley community’s trust in their City Council. A subsidiary of Motorola Solutions, Vigilant Solutions, has been a data broker for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, for years.

In 2019, the City Council established the Sanctuary City Contracting Ordinance. This prohibits the city from doing business with entities that are extreme vetting providers and data brokers who work with ICE unless “no reasonable alternative exists.” According to Mayor Jesse Arreguín, city staff concluded no other radio system vendor could provide the reliability, functionality and connectivity necessary for communication with neighboring jurisdictions during emergencies such as wildfires or earthquakes.

Proclaimed by the city to be well-removed from Motorola, Vigilant Solutions surveillance technology is sold directly by the company. By entering into this $6.5 million contract, the city is economically supporting a company with financial ties to ICE. 

While no data will be shared with ICE as part of the contract, Berkeley community members feel the city has surrendered some of its integrity. If the city is willing to symbolically break its promise two years after passing the sanctuary ordinance, what sort of precedent does this set? 

This final decision was rushed without reason — Motorola presented the contract to the city back in December 2020. City Council denied requests for further discussion during its meeting on the basis that the Sep. 30 deadline for the $1 million discount was rapidly approaching. This begs the question as to why the city waited until just two days before the deadline to vote on approving the contract

Even though these services will be used by the Berkeley Police Department, the Police Accountability Board wasn’t consulted. The city shouldn’t take steps to ensure its marginalized community members are safe only to stumble back just as quickly. 

While reliable and efficient emergency services are necessary, public safety concerns don’t seem to be the impetus behind this hurried decision. The contract stipulates Motorola’s work with Berkeley will be implemented within the next seven years.  

Delaying a project predicted to take years to complete seems a small price to pay to find another solution. This seems especially reasonable considering equipment used in Alameda and Contra Costa counties by the East Bay Regional Communications System Authority is compatible with standardized equipment from other manufacturers, with only certain proprietary functions requiring Motorola radios.

Berkeley residents deserve transparency. The Berkeley public should have been provided alternative solutions. 

The decision to enter into this contract seems rushed, and the cost of this collaboration with Motorola is worth far too much.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2021 opinion editor, Emily Hom.