Jesse Arreguín: "The issue isn't the police department. It's these other agencies"

At last night’s City Council meeting, five mutual aid memoranda regarding the Berkeley Police Department and other agencies passed by an 8-1 vote. The passage followed lengthy and at times impassioned public comment when dozens of people spoke, many arguing against the passage.

Mutual aid agreements set out the terms of cooperation between different agencies, such as when the UC Police Department requests aid from BPD.

“I believe we have one of the best police forces in the Bay Area, if not the country,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguín, who proposed amendments to the staff recommendation on the memoranda. “The issue isn’t the police department. It’s these other agencies.”

The City Council had approved numerous mutual aid memoranda at its November 8th meeting last year. But five of the agreements were held for further review by the city manager and the Police Review Commission (PRC). The five agreements concerned the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), the UCPD, criminal intelligence, and jail operations. Last night’s vote was to approve the five, but to ask the city manager and the PRC to report back to the council on Arreguín’s amendments within 90 days.

The amendments sought to protect civil rights from what some of the public comments called “the increasing militarization of the police”. On NCRIC, for example, Arreguín proposed limiting the submission of Suspicious Activity Reports to “only those individuals/groups that have been charged with a crime, with the exception of an individual who has solely committed a civil disobedience offense.” The amendments also addressed Berkeley’s policy of being a “city of refuge”: cooperation with the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) sometimes conflicts with that policy, according to some councilmembers and a number of those who spoke in public comments.

Chief Meehan: more time needed to understand ramifications

Councilmembers who spoke at last night’s meeting expressed general support for Arreguín’s approach. But the majority — and both Acting City Manager Christine Daniel and Police Chief Michael Meehan — said they had not had enough time to evaluate properly the amendments, which Arreguín produced this week.

“We just need more time to even read through it,” Meehan said. “You can certainly pass bits and pieces of it, but I don’t know what the ramifications of it are in every case.”

Councilmember Kriss Worthington strongly supported Arreguín’s amendments, jokingly suggesting that the work his colleague had done justified raising his councilmember salary from $20,000 to $100,000. Worthington proposed a halfway adoption of the amendments, holding only the NCRIC and UASI items for further review.

“The public has overwhelmingly testified: ‘Please don’t approve these agreements’,” Worthington said. “I think it’s backwards to approve all the agreements and then come back with proposals.”

Only three members supported that alternative motion. The main motion, approving the staff report, passed with only Worthington voting no.

Councilmember Linda Maio tried to reassure some of the public who expressed objection to the motion.

“We want the best possible provisions in our Memoranda of Understanding that we can possibly get,” she said. “To not cooperate with ICE. To make sure our police dept is not militarized through training. I have faith that will happen because I’ve seen it happen over and over again. We’ll do it thoughtfully, we’ll do it carefully, we’ll do it collaboratively.”

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...