ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. - By Bay City News Service
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today to continue supporting the sheriff's office's controversial "Urban Shield" first-responder training exercise despite strong opposition by a large group of activists.
Some of the dozens of speakers at a three-hour hearing on the law enforcement training exercise the sheriff's office has hosted every year since 2007 alleged that it's racist and xenophobic and has a negative impact on communities of color and immigrants.
Board members said they share some of the speakers' concerns but said they will continue to back it as long as Sheriff Gregory Ahern keeps making efforts to improve it and lets them monitor it closely.
Supervisor Nate Miley said, "I initially was not a supporter of Urban Shield but I became a fan and a supporter over time."
Miley said of Ahern, "This man is not perfect but no one is perfect. We just need to weed out the toxic elements in Urban Shield."
He said, "I think Urban Shield is necessary."
Supervisor Richard Valle said, "We continue to dialogue with Urban Shield. We will move forward with funding and dig deeper into this."
Scott Haggerty said, "I see no reason to discontinue Urban Shield."
Supervisor Keith Carson said, "This is a complicated issue and will continue to be complicated on many fronts. It's crucial that the board keeps close oversight.
"Ahern said he has put in adequate safeguards to make sure that the annual Urban Shield training program bans racial profiling, excludes vendors who display derogatory or racist messages and excludes the sale or transfer of assault weapons and firearms.
The event, which is held at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton each September, provides training for natural disasters as well as man-made disasters such as explosions, mass shootings and terrorism.
Ahern said 30 law enforcement agencies from the Bay Area participate every year as well as two other agencies selected from other parts of the U.S. and another two agencies that are selected from foreign
At its meeting today, the Board of Supervisors discussed the findings of an 18-member panel of community members, health officials and educational officials that was formed last year to address the community's concerns about the Urban Shield.
Activists who oppose the training exercise made much of the task force's determination that it was in no position to accomplish its community relations goals or to make any recommendations or assessments related to the program's impact on communities.
Executive Director of the Arab Resource & Organizing Center Lara Kiswani, who was appointed to the task force, said, "The task force agreed that as a body it does not represent vulnerable communities or those impacted by the training program."
Kiswani said, "The primary reason for this is that the composition of the task force was disproportionately not representative of vulnerable communities and communities most impacted by policing in Alameda County."
She said, "This is what we've been saying for years. If decision-makers in Alameda County want to take disaster and emergency response seriously, as its residents do, then it has to implement programs
that are inclusive, sustainable, and transparent."
Tash Nguyen of the Ella Baker Center, who was also a member of the task force, alleged that, "Urban Shield and its sponsors have revealed dangerous values and politics."
Nguyen also charged that Urban Shield includes training scenarios that use stereotypes of Arab and Muslim people.