Public Comment

New: Officers Should Defer to City Council

Thomas Lord
Sunday July 22, 2018 - 12:13:00 PM

Where's my Berkeley cop? The majority of the Subcommittee on NCRIC and Urban Shield has gone to great lengths to craft a report and recommendation that respects the officers of the Berkeley Police Department. Contrary to some accounts, the subcommittee has charted a course that takes very seriously the training needs of the department, including the need to participate in Urban Shield tactical scenario training. Berkeley police officers must now defer to City Council's role in the political reform of Urban Shield. 

Tactical scenario training is important

SRT - the Berkeley Police Department's Special Response Team - is a valuable community asset. Their record shows that they bring life-saving and peace-keeping value to the community. Chief Greenwood has written eloquently of SRT's importance both for the community, and as a career option for officers. 

In Urban Shield Tactical Scenario training, SRT and other City of Berkeley responders have practiced critical skills and learned new ones. Berkeley's reponders have benefited from observation and critique of their performances. Bringing Berkeley-specific training and policy to the competition, Berkeley's team is even prize-winning. 

Chief Greenwood has told us that there is a profound risk that if the City Council orders a one year suspension of Berkeley's participation in the tactical scenario training, the Special Response Team will suffer attrition and possible dissolution. This would be a quite significant loss for the City of Berkeley. 

I acknowledge that there is some risk - nobody has argued that it is a large risk - that not participating in this training in 2018 will decisively harm the team's and department's readiness. This risk is not enough to justify the ultimatum Chief Greenwood, acting as messenger, has conveyed from certain officers. 

The Supplemental majority report of the Berkeley City Council Ad-Hoc Subcommittee on Urban Shield documents many problems with Urban Shield. There is no room here to adequately summarize the extensive report; here are a few highlights: 

The problematic political messaging in some scenarios is well reported. Perhaps less appreciated is how it distracts from training for the kinds of emergencies that are more likely to occur here. The training might be improved by contemplating the tactical problems of post-earthquake mass homelessness and panic rather than, say, the possibility of a Hezbollah invading over the border with Mexico and setting up camp in Northern California (an actual Urban Shield tactical scenario). 

Deeply worrying is that in some instances, tactical scenarios have been designed for product placement sold to the highest bidder from among the trade show vendors. By analogy, how would we feel if medical schools were selling out their curriculum design to the highest bidding pharmaceutical companies? 

For a long litany of reasons like these, the subcommittee majority is recommending that Berkeley withdraw from the tactical exercises in 2018, and review the possibility of participation in 2019. In the meantime, Council would continue to call for significant reforms to Urban Shield's corporatized structure and strangely militarized agenda. 

Berkeley's withdrawal from tactical exercises and the trade show in 2018, should Council enact it, would represent an action taken by one body of elected officials (Council) towards another elected official (the Sheriff). The Urban Shield reforms the subcommittee recommends - some of which the sheriff, under pressure from other sources as well, is already implementing - are part of a political process. Officers of the Berkeley Police Department should not interfere with this political process. 

The path forward

If the subcommittee majority's recommendation is adopted, Berkeley will withdraw from the tactical exercises and trade show in 2018, and review the possibility of rejoining in 2019. 

If certain officers will quit rather than defer to City Council's role as Berkeley's political authority, that is tragic for the City, but it is less tragic than allowing police department employees to dictate what are, ultimately, political and legislative choices.