Recent ‘Urban Shield' expo receives low grades from community group

OAKLAND (BCN)-- A report card released today by a community group gave low marks to several aspects of a recent annual law enforcement expo in Alameda County that is all about saving lives, according to a sheriff's spokesman.

The report card by the Stop Urban Shield Coalition was released this morning at about 9 a.m. just before the start of the final meeting of the Alameda County Urban Shield Task Force, which met in a county social
service agency building at 2000 San Pablo Ave. in Oakland.

The task force met to make its final recommendations to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, which will decide on future funding for the expo.

"There's some tension in the room," Lara Kiswani, a task force member and Stop Urban Shield Coalition member, said.

Kiswani is one of 17 people who have been meeting since March to help the Alameda County Board of Supervisors decide on the future funding.

The expo has taken place in the county each year for the last 11 years. This year's expo took place earlier this month at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton.

Kiswani said today's meeting was going as expected with a number of diverse opinions. She said some people were trying to make people the priority of the expo while others were focused on other interests.

Kiswani said some people on the task force stand to benefit financially from the expo.

Grades in the report card were based on observations made by members of the Stop Urban Shield Coalition who attended this year's expo and who graded it in five areas including police militarization; racism, xenophobia and culture; surveillance; financial interests and de-escalation.

Each area was graded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F the worst.

Coalition members gave the expo F grades in the areas of police militarization; racism, xenophobia and culture and surveillance and D grades in the categories of financial interests and de-escalation.

Alameda County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly disagreed with the grades. He said the report card is not an objective look at the expo, which he described as a preparedness exercise rather than a SWAT training and weapons expo as the coalition did.

"We are offended," Kelly said of the grade of F for the category of racism, xenophobia and culture.

Coalition members based that grade in part on a highly stereotyped image of a mentally ill person in a hospital scenario and the expo's program and trainings which coalition members said were "structured around a 'nexus
to terrorism' mandated by the federal government, which contribute to an anti-Arab and Islamophobic sentiment."

Kiswani is also the executive director of the San Francisco-based Arab Resource & Organizing Center, an organization that aims to empower the Bay Area's Arab community.

Kelly said underlying everything at the expo is preparedness for natural and manmade disasters and terrorism.

According to Kelly, 11 years ago the world did not experience vehicle-born attacks like that in Barcelona, Spain.

"All that's changed now," he said.

Police have had to respond to the changes by adopting new technology, which is meant to save lives, according to Kelly. Police used to carry a revolver but technology changed and police were being outgunned.

The technology police are using today has saved lives, Kelly said.

Kelly gave Urban Shield credit for the response and subsequent capture of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing.

"There is no other first-responder exercise like it in the world," Kelly said.

The task force is being asked to deliver a final report to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors this month.

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