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Council Holds Special Meeting on Controversial Police Agreements

Key players to wrestle with proposed caveats in 5 p.m. work session; critics fear hike in domestic surveillance.

The Berkeley City Council votes on a contentious issue tonight: the police department’s agreements with state and federal intelligence-gathering and terror-abatement agencies.

In a 7 p.m. special meeting, the panel will vote on the revisions crafted in a 5 p.m. work session.

The council on Feb. 14 approved agreements between the Berkeley Police Department and the Northern California Regional Information Center, the Urban Area Security Initiative and the UC Police Department, carving out several exceptions to safeguard civil liberties.

Alarmed by the specter of an rolling through the Solano Stroll -- area police are seeking funds from the Urban Area Security Initiative.to buy a BeaCat "counter attack truck" -- members of local peace and social justice groups have been urging the council to scrap the standing agreements in their entirety.

Driving critics to the flash point was the “suspicious activity report,” a piece of intelligence-gathering which they say should only be executed when the subject of scrutiny has been charged with a crime (excluding non-violent acts of civil disobedience).

But Police Chief Michael Meehan said when law enforcement believes there may be a strong chance of terrorist or regional criminal activity, a suspicious activity report to the Northern California Regional Information Center is in order.

“In the last six months the police department has submitted SARs regarding threats to houses of worship and death threats directed at a local merchant by purported animal rights activists,” he says in a memo submitted to the city manager. Nationwide, "this type of reporting has prevented major attacks such as the Times Square Bomber, the Portland Christmas Tree Bomber and the D.C. Metro Rail Bomber."

What constitutes a suspicious activity is not clearly defined, which speakers at previous meetings say is cause for alarm. Meehan says safeguards have been put in place to protect against misuse.

Nuclear reactors are also on tonight’s agenda.

The city’s peace and justice commission wants to see the California PUC decommission Diablo Canyon and San Onofre nuclear power plants and initiate renewable power generation, and is asking the council to petition Gov. Jerry Brown to so order the agency.

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