City Council votes to enter contract with Axon, reconsider police report

Tony Webster/Creative Commons
Photo by Tony Webster under CC BY-SA 2.0 Concerns arose at a Tuesday City Council meeting over a contract with Axon, which some residents allege violates the city's Sanctuary City Contract Ordinance.

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Berkeley City Council held a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss a contract with Axon and issues surrounding a report from the Berkeley Police Department.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín opened the meeting by addressing controversy over the city’s potential purchase of body cameras from Axon, a law enforcement technology company with ties to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. According to Arreguín, some Berkeley residents allege that entering into a contract with Axon would violate the city’s Sanctuary City Contract Ordinance, or SCCO.

Many residents encouraged the city to enforce the ordinance during public comment.

“What was the intention of passing the Sanctuary City Contracting Ordinance?” said Berkeley resident Elana Auerbach during public comment. “Was there an intention to not do business with those who do business with ICE?”

The SCCO prohibits the city from entering into a contract with any entity that provides ICE with data or provides “extreme vetting,” referring to predictive risk analysis or similar services. According to Arreguín, entering into a contract with Axon does not violate the SCCO, as Axon was found not to provide ICE with either service.

Despite the concerns from residents, the council voted unanimously in favor of the Axon contract.

“This ordinance puts me in a bind,” said Vice Mayor Kate Harrison. “I am going to vote yes on this because Axon is within the requirements. We are stuck with the ordinance that we have.”

After the vote, the council discussed problems with a police equipment impact statement given to the city’s Police Accountability Board, or PAB. BPD wrote the impact statement to explain the uses of various weapons, nonlethal weapons and other equipment as outlined in the impact statement to the city, according to police captain Rico Rolleri.

The PAB raised concerns about language in the impact statement, written by BPD, saying that the language for many pieces “’fails to adequately describe’ the full impacts of the equipment’s use.”

Harrison spoke out against the potential for some equipment to be used by the police, stating that “military” equipment can pose threats to civil liberties. Harrison also claimed that the impact statement names tear gas as a part of the department’s armory, a substance not allowed in Berkeley.

“The report has egregious failings,” alleged Berkeley resident Kitt Saginor during public comment. “For some equipment, only desirable impacts are stated, and for others, no impacts are given.”

The council passed a motion to postpone the consideration of this police report to July 26, with Councilmembers Susan Wengraf, Lori Droste and Rashi Kesarwani abstaining.

Lance Roberts is a city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @lance_roberts.