Urban Shield mishandling criticisms rejected by Alameda County board

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to reject most of a county Civil Grand Jury report's criticisms of the way it handled the process of approving sweeping changes to the sheriff's controversial "Urban Shield" law enforcement training program.

The grand jury said in its report in June that the board's "mismanagement of the review process" earlier this year caused the group that distributes federal grant money for emergency training programs to shift nearly $5 million in U.S. Department of Homeland Security funding away from Alameda County.

The panel said the result is "the loss of essential regional emergency preparedness training, leaving county residents less safe."

The sheriff's office started Urban Shield in 2007 because it believed the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, showed that law enforcement agencies weren't well-prepared for such attacks.

More than 100 agencies and thousands of people, including some from foreign countries, participated in past conferences, which were held each September.

But critics, including the Stop Urban Shield Coalition, alleged that the training program is militaristic, racist and xenophobic and has a negative impact on communities of color and immigrants.

In votes at meetings on Feb. 27 and March 12, the Board of Supervisors approved most of the 63 recommendations for changing Urban Shield that were made by an ad hoc committee that the board created in 2018 to offer a new vision and strategic approach for emergency management in the county.

Among the changes the board approved are eliminating military-type SWAT teams and competition from the annual training exercises, eliminating its weapons expo and vendor show component, getting rid of the "Urban Shield" label and evaluating law enforcement participants' compliance with their departments' use-of-force policies.

In response to the board's actions, the board of the Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative, which is comprised of representatives from 12 Northern California counties, voted on March 14 to shift the nearly $5 million in federal funding away from Alameda County.

The grand jury report said, "The Board of Supervisors failed to provide clear and complete guidelines to the ad hoc committee, particularly in regard to making recommendations that are consistent with grant guidelines."

But a draft of a letter that the Board of Supervisors plans to send to Alameda County Superior Court Presiding Judge Tara Desautels says it vetted the committee's recommendations and engaged in debate and only then took final action on them.

"The board did not adopt recommendations lightly," the letter says.

The supervisors also say they provided clear guidelines to the committee that were "based upon community concerns and sufficiently reflected the intent of the board."

In addition, the board says it rejects the panel's finding that it selected members to the committee in a way "that virtually guaranteed partisan advocacy and predictable intractability."

The board writes that each of its members had the right to make an appointment to the committee and "each supervisor acted independently in selecting his or her appointee."

The board also rejects the finding that it failed to make available to the public materials under consideration at its meetings in a timely manner.

It writes, "The timing of the committee's release of materials to the public did not violate any policies, rules or laws."

Alameda County Administrator Susan Muranishi told the board before it voted on Tuesday that she will supplement the letter and make clerical adjustments before it is sent to Judge Desautels.