Public Comment

Re “Twisted Thinking” by Steve Martinot (Op-Ed, Dec. 3)

Berkeley Councilmember Kate Harrison
Saturday December 09, 2017 - 11:47:00 AM

As the author of the Berkeley City Council resolution requiring that the Council approve and be informed of past items acquired by our Police Department through the Department of Defense 1033 Program, I want to respond to concerns in Mr. Martinot’s Op-Ed. I also want to further explain my intent.

I am deeply concerned about the blurring of the lines between the military and our police. Our country was founded on the principles of the military and police being subordinate to civilian control and clear boundaries between the civilian sphere and the military. The 1033 Program as now conceived under President Trump has the potential to subvert these principles by: (1) facilitating transfers of excess defense material that is often wholly inappropriate for police-use, and (2) doing so without local civilian oversight.

I share the goal of a complete prohibition of participation in the program. Mr. Martinot’s arguments that future Councils may be less skeptical about this program and that interacting at all with the federal security state is the slippery slope are well taken. However, given the range of views on the Council and lack of awareness about this program generally, I was not confident that a prohibition would be politically and logistically feasible in the short-term. My item remedied the immediate harms posed by a lack of oversight and transparency and started a vitally important conversation within the Council, the Police Review Commission (PRC), and the public. The item initiated a process at the PRC that will require the Council to revisit the issue.

Mr. Martinot questioned whether the City Council “can establish the right to oversee, and to confirm before the fact … equipment the Berkeley PD will request from Project 1033.” The California Office of Emergency Services, which administers the 1033 program in California, confirmed that local governments can limit use of the program. Further, local oversight of this program is the official recommendation of the American Civil Liberties Union. We are the first city in the country to take any action on this front; our legislation is now being used as a national model.

In his Op-Ed, Mr. Martinot incorrectly suggested that the Council “renewed its membership in Project 1033” at the November 14 meeting. The BPD likely enrolled in the program sometime after it was created in 1997, without any required Council action. Increasing transparency, implementing immediate oversight, and seeking more information pending further consideration of the program that has existed in near secrecy is not tantamount to a “renewal.”

Finally, Mr. Martinot suggests that “[t]he Berkeley police department has been amassing military weaponry and military grade surveillence [sic] equipment for years now – assault rifles, grenade launchers, stingray technology, etc.” To date, I have found no indication of these materials coming from the 1033 program but am concerned that the record keeping on this point is wholly inadequate. The City Manager reported on November 28, 2017 that the BPD recalls acquiring ballistic helmets through the 1033 program but no longer has the helmets or any other material from the 1033 program in their inventory. We need more than recollection; we need documentation.

This issue is just one of many involving protection of privacy, civil liberties, civil rights and transparency facing the Council in the very near future. After voting to prohibit BPD’s participation in the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) and Urban Shield, I have continued to push for withdrawal from both NCRIC and Urban Shield. Early next year, we will also be considering the proposed Surveillance Technology Use and Community Safety ordinance, which will help implement critical oversight over surveillance technology and contribute to protecting our privacy.

We need to remain vigilant.