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Sheriff’s office flops during on-air debate with Stop Urban Shield
by Stop Urban Shield Coalition
Monday Mar 11th, 2019 2:40 PM
In a debate hosted by KPFA radio’s UpFront program this morning, Amber Piatt, a representative of the Stop Urban Shield Coalition and the director of Human Impact Partner’s Health Instead of Punishment program, faced off with Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office about the county’s decision to end the controversial Urban Shield program. The discussion was moderated by UpFront co-host Cat Brooks, and re-affirmed that the grounds the sheriff office was standing on in trying to revive Urban Shield were shaky, and often false.
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Despite the sheriff’s fabricated claim that the end of Urban Shield means the end of emergency preparedness training, the Supervisor’s meeting tomorrow regarding the county-appointed committee recommendations is about how to strengthen disaster preparedness and response programs in Alameda County. During the debate, Piatt made this point clear:

“That’s really what this conversation has actually been about in the last year since the Board of Supervisors agreed to end Urban Shield as we know it. It’s about how we can improve how we’re able to show up for each other in our communities. Firefighters, emergency responders, and other professionals absolutely have a role and need training—no one is arguing [against] that. But really this is about thinking about how we can train our neighbors, our coworkers, our families, and others to really understand that disaster recovery works best when we work together…What this does is not eliminate training, it expands training, it widens training and who is going to be prepared to withstand disasters that we know we’re going to face in the future.”

The Stop Urban Shield coalition has called foul on the sheriff for an 11th hour attempt to undermine a county-appointed committee’s recommendations that call for community based emergency preparedness and demilitarized disaster response. During the debate, Sgt. Kelly stated that the sheriff’s hands were tied, and only submitted the letter at the last minute because they did not get to see the recommendations until only a week before the Board’s vote. Piatt, however, dispelled that myth, and set the record straight by laying out the timeline of the Ad Hoc Committee’s process:

“Just to be clear and truthful about the timeline, the first Ad Hoc Committee meeting was on September 21th, 2018. There were a few initial meetings, and the committee’s recommendations were first introduced on November 19th. There were seven more public meetings, many of which I attended, that the Sheriff’s staff also attended, over the next two and half months, and the recommendations were often printed for community members and staff to follow along as the committee deliberated how to best come to consensus on what they were pushing forward. So as early as November 19th [of 2018], the sheriff could have voiced any concern. And yet the sheriff did not send his memo until February 22nd [of 2019], as I mentioned, the Friday before the Board was set to vote on the final recommendations.”

Piatt continued, “I can really see only one reason to submit the letter at the 11th hour: It was a desperate attempt to obliterate the work the Ad Hoc Committee was entrusted to do by the Board of Supervisors.”

Furthermore, the sheriff’s office once again failed to provide any foundation to its claims that the Ad Hoc Committee recommendations would jeopardize the county receiving grant funding. In fact, Piatt pointed to specific examples where the recommendations would actually strengthen the county’s compliance with grant requirements:

“The sheriff and his allies on Bay Area UASI have not identified any specific funding provisions that conflict with the Ad Hoc Committee’s recommendations. The Ad Hoc Committee’s recommendations will actually bring us into compliance with the MOU. For example, the sheriff has repeatedly failed to demonstrate, as required by grant guidelines, how the program will engage and/or impact the whole community, including children, older adults, pregnant women, individuals with limited English proficiency, individuals with disabilities and others with access and functional needs. The Ad Hoc Committee recommendations actually include strategies to address this failure. And if Sheriff Ahern and Bay Area UASI were truly concerned about compliance with funding requirements, that concern would be reflected in all uses of UASI funds, and not just the recommendation of the Ad Hoc Committee that they don’t like.”

During the debate, co-host Brooks questioned the sheriff on whether he was taking communities’ dire concerns seriously: “Sgt. Kelly, you can understand that when you have law enforcement and other professionals dressing up as if they were immigrants, or Muslim—or of course there was the infamous year where Urban Shield did an exercise where they were standing off with Occupy protesters—how that can be concerning for the community, yes?”

While Sgt. Kelly acknowledged that Urban Shield has been troublesome and problematic, he also completely dismissed the long-held central concern of police militarization as an “inflammatory” “key word.

Instead of remaining mired in the past, Piatt emphasized the need to look ahead to how to build a better future: “We can debate all day long about whether or not a racist war games and weapon expo program should have ever been created…Really, what we’re doing here now is having a conversation about what’s in our future, right? Urban Shield is ended, that conversation is over. That ship has sailed. What we’re having a conversation about is who do we want to be as a county? What values do we want to represent? What community members are we here to protect and invest in? We’re trying to move forward. We’re trying to move forward, and what the sheriff is doing is pulling out every tool in his toolbox to try and claw us back to the past. And really, we just need to march forward, march forward with the ad hoc committee, with the Board of Supervisors.”

Over the years, communities in Alameda County demonstrated massive opposition to the controversial Urban Shield model of emergency preparedness, and Supervisors responded by ending Urban Shield as it was constituted and created an Ad Hoc Committee. Since then, it has been elected and appointed representatives at the county-level making decisions about what the future of emergency preparedness models. “The sheriff’s attempts to sabotage these recommendations and revive Urban Shield from the dead are not just about dismissing communities’ concerns, but importantly, are efforts to undermine a democratic process that has been put in place by decision makers,” said Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. “As such, supervisors should uphold the sanctity of democracy and their place as representatives of Alameda County residents, and reject the sheriff’s malicious efforts.”

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