Urban Shield began in 2007 as the brainchild of Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern, who leveraged federal anti-terrorism funding to create a program that brings together police, firefighters and paramedics from across the Bay Area for joint training on disasters and terrorist attacks. Training scenarios, held at sites across the Bay Area, have included a hostage-taking at UC Berkeley, a terrorist takeover of a passenger train, a school shooter and the bombing of an oil refinery by anarchists.Outside agencies have also joined in the event, which has been copied by other metropolitan areas. Ahern said Boston officials have told him the training they received at Urban Shield helped them respond to this year\’s Boston Marathon bombing.\”I think it\’s the most positive program we have going on in our region,\” Ahern said. \”I don\’t know why people would want to protest the fact that law enforcement and first responders are preparing for disasters in the Bay Area.\”But opponents are troubled by many aspects of the event. They fear that some of the participating outside agencies, such as security forces from Israel, Bahrain and China, will use the SWAT team training against civilians rather than terrorists and advise local law enforcement agencies on how to handle perceived terrorist threats.They also fear that vendors hawking everything from munitions used for policing protests to sophisticated computer equipment are marketing expensive and unnecessary military-grade equipment to local police forces as Washington pares down defense budgets.And they\’re upset that the federal government is paying about $1.5 million to cover most of the event\’s costs, while money to fight poverty has dried up.\”They would rather spend millions to practice war games and buy military hardware than to help people,\” Buford said.Ahern, who became a lightning rod on the issue of militarizing local police this year when he sought money to buy a drone, said Urban Shield was only about improving disaster preparedness and had nothing to do with policing demonstrations.He said the prior inclusion of security officials from countries such as Bahrain, which has violently suppressed recent pro-democracy protests, offered police the chance to learn more about different cultures and respond to the needs of different communities.
Southern Poverty Law Center
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