2018–A man was dying from gunshot wounds while an armed gunman was on the loose in South Berkeley.
2017–A distraught man barricaded himself in a car and then jumped into the Bay in West Berkeley.
2016–A man wielding an assault rifle walking on San Pablo Avenue in mid-day.
2015–Several young people were severely injured and killed after a balcony collapsed in Downtown Berkeley.
What do these horrific real-world occurrences have in common? These are just a few examples when our police officers used Urban Shield training to respond and save lives. I am immensely grateful that a school shooting, gas explosion, bridge collapse or another similar tragedy has not occurred in recent years but there is no guarantee that it won’t happen. As we saw with the protests as recent as last year, Berkeley is also a target, especially from the alt-right and neo-Nazis. However, City Councilwomen Kate Harrison and Cheryl Davila are strenuously recommending that our eight police officers not participate in tactical scenarios and vendor show for 2018.
Many opponents of Urban Shield are well-meaning people with good intentions. Across the nation, my Black brothers and sisters have been disproportionately targeted by police officers. It is a serious concern for virtually all Berkeley citizens but does the decision to withdraw from Urban Shield address those concerns?
It is important that residents think critically about what this decision entails and what this would accomplish.
- Tactical team withdrawal
If our SWAT (SRT) teams can’t practice de-escalation training, we will undoubtedly see worse outcomes that will likely affect more black and brown community members. Our SWAT (SRT) team has de-escalated countless dangerous situations and have not been involved in an officer-involved shooting since beginning to participate in Urban Shield. Berkeley’s lead tactical expert, Sergeant Spencer Fomby, a member of the Black Police Officers Association, travels around the world teaching first responders how to de-escalate dangerous situations. There is no other comparable scenario-based training that helps them prepare for life-threatening incidents.
- Pulling BPD from attending the vendor show
Critics say the vendor show militarizes our police but the City of Berkeley purchases nothing from the vendor show. The vendor show is held in a large warehouse and displays wares for first responders (protective garments, technology, emergency medical supplies, and some weapons). It is unclear how barring grown adults from walking into the warehouse protects Berkeleyans and prevents militarization. Furthermore, there is not a guard at the door to distinguish Berkeley police officers from other attendees at Urban Shield.
3. Our police officers have indicated that this decision will force them to leave Berkeley.
Our police officers and chief have told the mayor and council repeatedly that withdrawing the tactical team would put our first responders and community in harm’s way and further damage morale. Berkeley is suffering from a tremendous police staffing crisis. Crime disproportionately affects communities of color. Most of us want foot patrols, bike cops in San Pablo Park, and traffic enforcement units across the City. That isn’t happening. It’s not happening because there is an exodus of our police officers. Is this decision about a 48-hour training really worth it? I want more community-centered policing to prevent crime in Berkeley and establish personal relationships with communities of color. This can’t happen if we only have enough police officers for patrol.
I urge you to write our mayor and City Council members at firstname.lastname@example.org . Tell them:
“We need your leadership to help our police officers practice de-escalation, save lives and prevent gun violence in Berkeley. Please allow our police officers to continue their tactical training by remaining in Urban Shield until the program is restructured in 2019. It is not worth the risk to our community.”
Editor’s Note: Berkeleyside updated the publication time after publication due to a technical issue with our daily newsletter. No other changes were made.