County Turns Down Urban Security Funds

County Turns Down Urban Security Funds


Alameda County will receive just $800,000 of $5.5 million of a federal grant after the Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Approval Authority voted to end a controversial regional training and exercise program and exposition last month. 

The UASI, a group that distributes federal grant money for emergency training programs, made the decision at its March 14 meeting after the Alameda County Board of Supervisors (ACBOS) voted 3-2 to make changes to the program two days prior, according to a letter from Shawn T. Sexton, division commander project manager at UASI.

Urban Shield was an annual training program where law enforcement agencies and first responders conducted preparedness training and exercises for scenarios such as national disasters, active shooters and terrorism attacks. The initiative was created by Alameda County Sherriff Gregory Ahern in 2007 and the Alameda County Sheriffs Office hosted the annual event. 

The exposition and program faced a large amount of public criticism. Critics believed the event tried to militarize law enforcement with some of its SWAT team training competitions and exercises. Also at the exposition, outside vendors sold militarized weapons to law enforcement agencies. Five years ago a vendor sold a “Black Rifles Matter” T-shirt at the height of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. 

Alameda residents criticized the last Urban Shield event on Sept. 9, 2018, after SWAT team personnel held a mock hostage rescue at an area of Alameda Point the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs agreed not to use for this purpose. An Urban Shield tactical team staged a demonstration at Alameda Point that involved participants firing blanks near a colony of the endangered least tern (“Urban Shield Practice at Point Included Gunfire,” Sept. 13, 2018).

Last year before the last Urban Shield, ACBOS decided to appoint an ad hoc committee to recommend changes to the Urban Shield event. In all the committee made 63 recommendations. Of the 63 recommendations the committee and the county agreed on seven. Those include eliminating the SWAT teams and competition from the exercises, eliminating the weapons expo, focusing on emergency preparedness for natural disasters and changing the name “Urban Shield.” 

The county had approved UASI to receive the grant funds from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security before the March 14 vote. Ahern said without the terrorism angle of the event the Department of Homeland Security will not further the grant. 

Alameda County will receive $800,000 of the grant for equipment and its wireless emergency alert system, according to reports. The remaining $4.7 million for this fiscal year will go to other Bay Area counties for emergency training.