Berkeley council reasserts oversight over transfers of defense materials

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BERKELEY (BCN) The Berkeley City Council has approved a resolution that restores the Council's oversight of transfers of excess U.S. Department of Defense materials, such as weapons and vehicles, to the city's Police Department.

The resolution was authored by Councilwoman Kate Harrison, whose office said the Council approved the resolution on Tuesday night.

That means that Berkeley is likely one of the first cities in the nation to reassert local control since President Donald Trump issued an executive order in August that allowed local law enforcement agencies to acquire military equipment without getting approval from local governments, 
according to Harrison's office.

Harrison said earlier this week that Trump's order revoked an order issued by former President Barack Obama in 2015 to standardize procedures for local agencies in obtaining defense materials, limiting the scope of eligible materials, requiring training in civil liberties, after-action reports and that local civilian governments authorize the acquisition of such materials.

She said Obama issued that order in response to concerns by people across the country about local agencies using military weapons and equipment in 2014 after police in Ferguson, Missouri, used such equipment to respond to protesters who were upset about an officer in that city fatally shooting Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man.

Berkeley citizens are worried about the potential use of military equipment, such as armored and weaponized vehicles, grenade launchers and camouflaged uniforms, at the local law enforcement level, according to Harrison.

She said the Berkeley Police Department is enrolled in the program under Section 1033 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1997, which permits the Secretary of Defense to transfer excess defense material to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

The resolution requires that the City Council review and approve any military equipment that the city's Police Department wants to acquire.

Harrison said she's not aware of the Police Department acquiring any military equipment recently but she would like to find out for sure so her resolution requires that City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley give the City Council a report on the dates, contents and uses of any materials that have 
been given to the department through the Department of Defense program.

In addition, the resolution requires that the Berkeley Police Review Commission determine whether the city should participate in the Department of Defense program at all.

The resolution takes effect immediately.