The Berkeley Police Department's quest for an armored tank is expected to draw fire from critics at Tuesday's council meeting.
Councilman Kriss Worthington has asked for a detailed report regarding the funding and purpose of the eight-ton vehicle. No public hearing is scheduled, however.
Berkeley, Albany and UC Berkeley police departments teamed up as the North County Tactical Working Group to seek funding for the Lenco BearCat from the Urban Areas Security Initiative, which funnels homeland security resources to "high threat, high density" areas.
The grant has been applied for and approved.
In a recent work session, council members probed and speakers blasted the police for unleashing what appeared to be an offensive weapon on the city, and securing the grant without consulting the council first.
They've got it all wrong, Police Chief Michael Meehan said.
For one thing, it may be armored, but it is not armed.
"The emergency vehicle has no offensive capability," Meehan said. Rather, it functions as "a safe platform" for officers and victims needing rescue.
While protecting the public, "My role is also to keep my employees safe," he said.
His examples of appropriate use included a "multi-hour event" last year in which an assailant fired an SKS assault rifle at officers, and the mass shooting April 2 at Oikos University in Oakland.
"We had a number of injured people right at the door to this building," he said. "How were the officers to get to those people and extract them? They used a vehicle similar to this to get close to the situation to pull those people out and take them to medical care."
The departments broke no rules in applying for the grant directly, said city manager Christine Daniels: City departments are not required to consult the council unless they are seeking matching funds or matching staff time.
"We submit hundreds and hundreds of grant applications which you don't see, simply because they are asking for cash to come to us," she said.
The Berkeley police would neither house the tank nor bear primary responsibility for it, Meehan said. That role would belong to the UC police.
"That actually worries me more than if it was with the Berkeley police chief," Worthington said. "We've seen how (the campus police) use their batons in a very immoral way against their faculty, their students, their own staff."
The UC Police Department has been hit with a $15 million lawsuit that also names Chancellor Robert Birgenau and other university administrators, UC Police Chief Mitchell Celaya, Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan, Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern, and several individual officers. The complaint details police attacks, including repeated jabbing and clubbing with batons.
According to PoliceOne magazine, the BearCat "easily can withstand hits from most common small arms, has plenty of room to accommodate not only a security crew but also ambush victims in need of rescue, maneuvers well, and can move out at high speeds when required."
The BearCat is already in use in at least 20 American cities. Fremont, Oakland, and Livermore have similar vehicles.