BERKELEY -- Police department mutual aid agreements with other agencies that were reviewed Oct. 15 by the City Council drew fire from residents and several council members who said the city's participation in Homeland Security initiatives jeopardizes first amendment rights.
Nonetheless, the council approved the more-than-50 agreements that allow police to borrow Oakland police dogs, use the Alameda County Sheriff's Office laboratory to analyze seized drugs, help nearby departments in riot situations and more.
Concerns raised by the public and council members Jesse Arreguin, Max Anderson and Kriss Worthington targeted agreements with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center and the Urban Area Security Initiative, both programs of the Department of Homeland Security.
NCRIC, one of more than 70 "fusion" centers across the country, receives, analyzes, gathers and shares "threat-related information between the federal government and state, local ... and private sector partners," according to the Department of Homeland Security website.
UASI -- overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and housed within DHS -- funds first-responders' planning, organization, equipment and training in "high-threat, high-density urban areas," and assists in preventing and recovering from acts of terrorism, according to the FEMA website.
Last year, the watchdog group Coalition for a Safe Berkeley asked the City Council to sever ties with UASI and NCRIC. The council rejected that request, but imposed restrictions on police interactions with UASI and NCRIC.
One restriction was limiting Suspicious Activity Reports that police send to NCRIC, to criminal rather than First Amendment activity arrests.
Addressing the council, George Lippman, of the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, said police ignored the restrictions.
Summaries of the Suspicious Activity Reports "reveal violations of constitutional rights and the constraints laid down by council," he said, citing one report on a traffic stop that stated a person "used language consistent with a group known to confront law enforcement."
Public speakers cited another report that summarized an arrest for petty theft by stating "The detainee used terminology consistent with a group that does not 'believe in the United States government.,'"
"We don't want the crime to be a pretense to be reporting on something that somebody's saying," Councilman Jesse Arreguin said, addressing Police Chief Michael Meehan.
Meehan responded that in each report, "there is a criminal predicate," and that in the future, report summaries -- full reports are not public documents -- would more clearly explain the criminal activity.
The council also discussed the UASI agreements.
Last year, Berkeley, UC Berkeley and Albany police jointly applied for a UASI grant to purchase an armored personnel vehicle. The application was dropped after the public protested, and the City Council subsequently directed police to inform it when seeking UASI grants.
Meehan told the council that over the year in review, the department hadn't applied for UASI funds.
Councilman Anderson expressed concern with Berkeley police participation in UASI-sponsored Urban Shield exercises. A public speaker had shown council members a photograph from the 2012 Urban Shield training that showed heavily armed police confronting protesters holding anti-war and Occupy banners.
"I'm worried about the creeping militarization (of police)," Anderson said. "To see that picture that the 99 percenters are the prototype terrorists that you would organize your efforts against tells me that this has very little to do with protecting us from real threats."
Meehan explained, however, that Urban Shield training is "a very advanced, very involved public safety program," not just for police. "It's police, it's fire, it's haz mat, it's bomb squads, it's emergency response teams, it's public works, it's water rescue," he said.
Police Sgt. Chris Stines, who said he participated in Urban Shield, added, "The focus is around terrorism issues -- the first response to those kinds of issues -- not (response) to protest issues."