Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan: “Much common ground has been found”
Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan: “Much common ground has been found”

Last November, the Berkeley City Council approved a range of mutual aid agreements between the Berkeley Police Department and other agencies. But five of the proposed agreements — with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), the UCPD, criminal intelligence, and jail operations — were held for consideration until February. Last night, revisions to the five agreements were considered both in a three-hour special work session of the Council and in a special Council meeting.

At the end, all five were passed to the city manager to draw up plans for implementing the agreements, which the Council will consider in September.

The lengthy path for the agreements stems from concerns by councilmembers, the Police Review Commission, and outspoken members of the public about the kinds of information being shared with other agencies, and whether sufficient safeguards were in place to protect civil liberties. 

Most of the concern in the discussions last night centered around NCRIC and UASI, and particularly the suspicious activity reports (SARS) that are filed with NCRIC. Julia Mass, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, said so-called fusion centers like NCRIC were particularly problematical for civil liberties.

“The ACLU in general has real concern in general about the information gathered in fusion centers such as NCRIC,” she said. “In fusion center relationships there are ambiguous lines of responsibility… It’s hard to know whose rules you are supposed to follow.”

Mike Sena from NCRIC responded that the center is alert to concerns about how information is used.  “We are making sure that information we’re dealing with is dealt with properly,” he said. He emphasized that NCRIC is run by local organizations — he is from the California Department of Justice — and is responsive to local concerns.

George Perezvelez, chair of the Police Review Commission (PRC), said he wanted to see an agreement that allowed for the cooperation the BPD needs with other agencies while also protecting civil liberties. “We’ve tried to find a compromise that allowed for participation and greater oversight,” he said. “What can we do to channel that participation in a manner that can dictate how it is used and when it is used?” He also said he was aware that “as much as we have to take into consideration civil rights, we have to take into consideration public safety”.

Police Chief Michael Meehan said “much common ground” had been found with the organizations that have expressed concerns. He said the BPD would keep a log of all SARS filed with NCRIC, and would require approval at the level of captain for the reports. With UASI, the department would send all training orders to the PRC with details about the training.

Meehan also addressed the BPD’s plan to apply for funding from UASI for an emergency rescue vehicle, together with the University of California Police Department and the Albany Police Department. Some public commenters saw the vehicle as part of the militarization of the police force. “It’s designed to protect people from gun fire,” Meehan said. “It has no offensive capabilities and there are no weapons attached to it. It provides a safe platform allowing our negotiators to get closer in dangerous situations.”

City Manager Christine Daniel was instructed by the City Council to incorporate many of the revisions suggested by the PRC, the ACLU and councilmembers for consideration in September. Both Daniel and the PRC had submitted detailed proposals for last night’s meeting. “It’s important to convey these policies to other communities covered by NCRIC,” said Mayor Tom Bates, suggesting that Berkeley’s planned safeguards in the mutual aid agreements could be used more widely.

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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...