Friday, January 30, 2015

Activists Say Santa Cruz Police Lied to Secure Armored Vehicle Purchase

On January 27, community members held a press conference at Santa Cruz City Hall to reveal information which has added to their belief that police essentially lied in December when seeking the city council's approval to purchase a BearCat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) they claim will be used county-wide as an "emergency" vehicle. The purchase of the BearCat, which will be paid for with $250,000 in Homeland Security Department grants, has been widely protested in Santa Cruz by those opposed to the militarization of police. The Santa Cruz Police Department has claimed the nearest vehicle that is equipped similarly to the BearCat they want is located in Santa Clara County and would take 3-4 hours to arrive during an emergency, however activists with the organization SCRAM! (Santa Cruz Resistance Against Militarization!) announced they have found that at least two local law enforcement agencies currently possess armored vehicles. The County of Santa Cruz owns two armored vehicles, they say, and the City of Scotts Valley owns one.

John Malkin speaks during the press conference at the Santa Cruz City Hall.

On December 9, Santa Cruz Police informed the city council that if they had possessed an armored vehicle, they would have deployed it when two members of their department were gunned down while on duty in 2013, but SCRAM! members found a photograph that shows Scotts Valley Police's armored vehicle was on the scene during that incident. When activists contacted Scotts Valley Police recently, they were told the SWAT vehicle arrived to aid the SCPD within 20-30 minutes that day.

Journalist John Malkin, who has been working with SCRAM! and others to uncover more information about the SCPD's BearCat purchase through Public Records Act Requests, said that information detailing other agencies' armored vehicle inventories would have been, "very useful to have shared with the city council at the point when they were asked to vote for purchasing a new 250 thousand dollar vehicle."

"Our idea is that it would have given them a better perception of what kind of equipment is available locally, what kind of sharing is possible, and that the vehicle for another reason is not needed for our city," Malkin said.

SCRAM! activists then answered questions from the public and distributed a photo of the Scotts Valley SWAT vehicle in action that was originally published in the news when the Santa Cruz Sentinel and the LA Times reported on the 2013 officer shootings. 

Abbi Samuels displays the photo of the Scotts Valley SWAT vehicle that was published in newspapers in 2013.

Sherry Conable speaks at the press conference.
After the press conference concluded, community members entered the city council meeting, which was in progress, to speak to the BearCat issue during the oral communications period. They carried with them protest signs with inscriptions such as, "No Thanks To Tanks," "Give Peace A Chance," and "Give Back The BearCat Armored Military Vehicle." 

Activist Sherry Conable spoke and reminded city council members that on December 9 she asked that they postpone the BearCat vote because there was not enough information, and because it would "back people into corners, rather than build bridges with the community," she said.

Conable then eloquently stated how she thought Santa Cruz Police had lied:

"I have participated in the public process for 30 years in Santa Cruz in many different ways and I really have come to believe that one of the things that makes it most broken and unable to serve is dishonesty, and dishonesty occurs both by direct lying, and it occurs by concealing and manipulating information to get an outcome you want, even though if people had other information, they might see it differently. Activists do that. Staff does that. Elected officials do that. I believe that you, and and therefore we the community of Santa Cruz, in effect were lied to by the police department in order to secure the BearCat. I believe that the trust of the community has been severely damaged, and that our belief that we are being governed by community covenants that actually serve the well being of the whole community has been severely tattered. We have done a really good job as activists trying to respond to this situation. We need now for you to exercise your authority to build that trust again and to restore those community covenants."

Activists believe there are many other inconsistencies in the police statements made regarding the acquisition of the armored vehicle, and that they will continue to demand the Santa Cruz City Council rescind the BearCat order. Additionally, a public forum on the militarization of Santa Cruz Police will be held at 6pm on February 11 at the Louden Nelson Community Center.

Council Chambers.

Grant Wilson speaks to council members.

The Raging Grannies sang a "BearCat" song to council members.

A member of Veterans For Peace speaks to the council.

Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs set up at City Hall.

Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs.

Food Not Bombs table.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Hundreds Protest Approval of Police Attack Vehicle Purchase at SC City Council Meeting

On January 13, hundreds of residents attempted to attend the Santa Cruz City Council meeting to oppose the council's December decision which approved a police department request to accept Homeland Security grants totaling more than $250,000 earmarked for the purchase of an armored attack vehicle. When residents first found out in early December about the proposed purchase, police described it as an "emergency response and rescue vehicle" in a report sent to city council members prepared by Deputy Chief of Police Steve Clark and approved by Chief of Police Kevin Vogel. The public later found out that police intended to purchase a Lenco "BearCat." BearCat is an acronym, standing for Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck.

Santa Cruz City Hall.

Community members began to rally at City Hall at 2pm in the courtyard adjacent to the council meeting. The BearCat issue had not been not placed on the January 13 agenda by any of the city council members, but Mayor Don Lane announced that extra time would be added to the oral communications period at 5pm (which wound up extending the period by about 45 minutes beyond the standard 30 minutes). Only a fraction of the crowd was able to speak about the BearCat in the time allotted for the community. With a 140 person capacity, the council chambers was overflowing with people, and an attempt was made to set up speakers to broadcast the meeting to people shut out of the meeting. A wide variety of political groups in Santa Cruz organized separately and together to achieve such a large turnout.

Rally held in the courtyard of City Hall.

John Malkin, who is a journalist and a local specialist on police accountability issues, was the first to address the city council about the BearCat during the oral communications period. He urged the council to, "please rescind the grant approval and organize a public study session about this grant, and the BearCat, and the process by which grants come to city council and come to the Santa Cruz police."

Malkin also asked that the council implement a procedure that used to exist for Santa Cruz that requires police to notify the city council and the public before they apply for grants.

Shortly after the December 9 BearCat approval, a group of activists met with Mayor Lane to discuss the issue, and they were invited to give a short presentation on January 13, which was delivered by Abbi Samuels of Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs. She spoke on behalf of a coalition of eight individuals which included members of the local chapters of the ACLU, WILPF, People's Democratic Club, Code Pink, and Food Not Bombs, as well as a first responder and a civil rights activist.

Council Member Chase and Mayor Lane in Council Chambers.

Abbi Samuels

Council Chambers was overflowing with people.

The purpose of the presentation, Samuels said, was to give reasons why the BearCat order should be rescinded, as well as to introduce a proposal to change the process by which the City of Santa Cruz acquires grants.

One reason to rescind the BearCat order is "perception," she said. "What does it look like in our streets to have military vehicles?"

Deploying a military-style assault vehicle for use on the streets of Santa Cruz would impact the way people react to the police, Samuels said. It would be like treating citizens as "combatant enemies."

"Policing is becoming dictated by the Department of Homeland Security's notion of combating terrorism," Samuels said.

The $250,000 for the BearCat would come from two grants: one directly provided by the Department of Homeland Security, and another from monies made available by the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), which according to the FEMA website, "provides funding support for target hardening and other physical security enhancements and activities to nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of a terrorist attack."

Samuels said that according to their research conducted through Public Records Act Requests, records state the grants are to be used to acquire an anti-terrorism vehicle, as opposed to a rescue vehicle. The application for the grant submitted by police indicated the BearCat would be used as a SWAT team vehicle, she said, and activists don't believe that SWAT team activity is part of a "rescue team" vision of use for the vehicle.

Samuels said their research indicates that across the United States, BearCats are not typically used for rescue purposes. The most common uses are for drug busts, serving arrest warrants, and at peaceful protests. She said the ACLU has studied the use of vehicles like the BearCat and have found that their use in law enforcement tactics significantly increases the chance of property damage and bodily harm.

A persistent question asked by those opposed to the purchase of the BearCat is why didn't the police agree to an amendment to the ordinance that would guarantee the vehicle would not be used against peaceful protesters?

This point was especially highlighted during a speech from a member of Veterans for Peace that was given during the rally in the City Hall courtyard and again during the oral communications period.

"As veterans we once served for the state as agents of violence," he said.

"We were trained and authorized to kill on orders. That is why it is shocking, and I really mean that, shocking, to see equipment we used in combat now being used in our nation's streets against our fellow citizens, those of you who saw pictures of people in Ferguson."

"Armored personnel carriers, camouflaged uniforms, and assault rifles were never intended for local policing. In fact their use may often result in escalating, not solving, situations. When we arm and equip officers like soldiers going into battle, they will act like soldiers. It will not help to solve social problems using the equipment, techniques, and philosophy of war."

He said the militarization of police forces is happening all across the United States and wherever the organization has chapters.

Veterans For Peace speak at the rally.

During her presentation, Abbi Samuels asked why a similar vehicle that is not used for military purposes wasn't considered for purchase. She suggested the selection of a bullet proof bank vehicle that does not have military-style hookups for machine gun use, like the BearCat does.

Samuels noted that the City of Berkeley returned a similar vehicle in response to the public's opposition to it. Attack vehicle acquisitions have also been reversed or blocked locally in San Jose and San Leandro.

One individual opposing the BearCat speculated that Santa Cruz was eligible for this grant because defense contractor Lockheed Martin has a location close to the city at the end of Empire Grade Road.

According to police, an additional justification for the purchase is that the beach areas are designated as a protected Federal Buffer Zone with an "increased potential for public safety threats."

"The City of Santa Cruz not only serves as the county seat, but is also significantly impacted by additional population influxes created by major tourism destinations and a University of California campus. These factors are consistent with other full-service California cities that have obtained and successfully deployed regional rescue vehicles under this program," the police stated. Police say some examples of comparable cities that have deployed similar vehicles include Santa Barbara, Huntington Beach, Pasadena, Pomona, Redondo Beach, San Luis Obispo, and Visalia.

Samuels discussed the timeline for the grant process, which was based on the limited information activists were able to obtain from Public Records Act requests. She said that in the Autumn of 2013 the grant was first applied for, and that all grants are processed by Deputy Chief Clark. In May of 2014, the grant was approved by the Homeland Security Department via telephone. There is no paper trail for when the Santa Cruz Police Department notified City Manager Martin Bernal of the grant approval. That date had to be sometime before December 2, when city staff first notified council members about the proposal. The item was then placed on the consent agenda for the December 9 city council meeting. Agenda items not seen as "controversial" are all voted on as a group in one motion by council members as part of the consent agenda.

During the December 9 meeting, police said if the council did not approve the BearCat purchase at that session there would be a loss of funds. A specific deadline date for the expiration of the grants was never given. Samuels said there are no city or police documents that confirm there would be a loss of funds if the grant was not approved at the December 9 city council meeting.

Samuels said the coalition of activists she met with are now proposing that grants over a certain dollar amount must go to the city council, be placed on the regular agenda, and be scheduled in the evening.

Council members didn't make any comments about the BearCat purchase at the January 13 meeting, and the issue was not placed on the agenda for the next council meeting.

Even though there were countless members of the public who were not allowed to address the city council about the BearCat issue, Mayor Lane invited Police Chief Vogel to speak after the public comment period was shut down.

Vogel outlined a set of policy guidelines for use of the BearCat that the police department threw together following the public outcry at the December 9 council meeting. Details given about the policy included what the chain of command would be within the SCPD regarding who is authorized to operate the vehicle, and what situations the vehicle may be used. Vogel said the new BearCat policy was vetted through Mayor Lane, and it was announced that the vehicle could be used to serve warrants.

Chief of Police Kevin Vogel

Near the end of Vogel's presentation, community members began shouting out a deluge of questions for him. One woman asked loudly why it took seven months for the police department to draft the policy.

There were many other "outbursts" from the public at the January 13 meeting. There was a large police presence inside of council chambers due to the fact that the December 9 council meeting was briefly shut down when community members chanted "shame" repeatedly following the council's vote to approve the BearCat purchase.

The Santa Cruz Raging Grannies sang a "BearCat" song composed for the rally and meeting.

Steve Pleich of the Santa Cruz chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union

Attorney Daniel Sheehan addressed the council.

Dru Glover of Project Pollinate.

This community member was forced out of the meeting by Santa Cruz police after an "outburst."

Council Member Pamela Comstock wore a "Never Forget" shirt.

Chief Vogel and civil rights activist Robert Norse mingle after the oral communications period was concluded.