Exiled to the suburbs, this year's Urban Shield was diminished. This was the annual law enforcement training exercise and exhibition's first year in Pleasanton, after former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan bowed to community and post-Ferguson pressure to bar the event from its longtime home at the downtown Oakland Marriott.
Yes, there was still a Ballistic Armored Tactical Transport vehicle for the competing law enforcement SWAT teams to pose for pictures in front of. And, yes, the participating teams still engaged in 48 hours of continuous tactical training exercises around the Bay Area.
But despite frequent mentions of ISIS — and a macabre-sounding reenactment of the beheading of American journalist James Foley — Urban Shield's programming hasn't been updated to reflect a post-Ferguson America.
For issues like racial bias, de-escalation, or crowd control, law enforcement can seek training elsewhere, said J.D. Nelson, spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, which hosts Urban Shield each year. "Tactical skills" — a euphemism for playing with the fancy military-grade hardware on hand, all of which is for sale — remain the focus of Urban Shield.
But inside the exhibition, fewer drones, robots, and guns were on display. A full year after the country got a closeup look at what the militarization of the police could mean for their communities, the Urban Shield gravy train might be slowing down.
On Sept. 9, two days before Urban Shield 2015 began, the state Senate approved AB 36, a bill intended to slow the "1033 program," which allows local law enforcement to easily acquire gear designed for war. If signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, AB 36 would require local legislative approval before police and county sheriffs could receive certain kinds of "tactical surplus military equipment" like the armored vehicles seen in the St. Louis suburbs.
The 1033 program became a target of criticism following last year's heavily militarized response to the Ferguson protests. But that criticism hasn't stopped California law enforcement agencies from receiving $6.85 million worth of surplus gear from the feds since August of 2014. In that time, San Francisco police have acquired 13 forklifts worth $226,000. Alameda sheriff's deputies have received 40 rifles worth almost $30,000.
Even if 1033 ends, California cops still have plenty of toys: statewide, the stash of military hardware in the hands of police is valued at $100 million.
If signed, AB 36 will put a kink in the federal water hose, but Nelson says he isn't that concerned: "We like to buy our stuff new."