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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

San Leandro councilmember opposed sending its armored police vehicle to U.C. protests

San Leandro's Lenco Bearcat MedEvac on
display at a community meeting in 2015.
SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL
As the threat of violent protests at U.C. Berkeley this year escalated, San Leandro Police allowed the university police to twice borrow its armored emergency vehicle. It's a decision that at least one San Leandro elected official criticized Monday night.

"We have to be mindful and have a very balanced conversation right now in the public eye between free speech and hate speech," said San Leandro Councilmember Corina Lopez following a year-end presentation by the city's police brass. "In some cases, vehicles like the MedEac have been used in a way that has sort of inflamed an already volatile situation."

San Leandro Police allowed the armored vehicle to be borrowed by outside agencies five times this year, according to the department's data. Twice to U.C. Berkeley Police, in addition, to the Alameda County Sheriffs Department, and Hayward and Fremont Police Departments. The MedEvac was used within San Leandro city limits another eight times this year.

Because of the threat of violence involving protesters at the U.C. Berkeley campus, San Leandro's MedEvac was requested to respond only in the event of an active shooter, said San Leandro Police Chief Jeff Tudor. The armored vehicle was staged away from the protests and staffed by the department's tactical operations team, he said.

Lopez, though, continued to raise concerns that the city's asset should not have been deployed in the first place. "That particular university is considered in the world as the beacon of free speech," she told San Leandro Police Lt. Ron Clark. "It's highly irregular to see a MedEvac go to a college campus. It's not something I support."

Fortunately, said Lopez, the MedEvac was never engaged in the Berkeley conflicts. "I think a lot of us were holding their breath," she said.

The city's decision to purchase the armored vehicle in 2015 elicited quite a bit of controversy with opponents saying the MedEvac was a waste of money, and symbolized the increased militarization of the city's police department.

The Lenco Bearcat MedEvac is actually a heavily-armored Ford F-550 and is designed as medical emergency medical vehicle, but also as a shield during an armed conflict. San Leandro purchased the armored vehicle using a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The city allotted $50,000 in asset forfeiture funds for the purchase, along with another $50,000 from the Fremont PD.

*****
--COUNCIL NOTES--
--FBI DATA STATS-- Quite a bit of alarm came to San Leandro residents last week with the city being named for having the third highest rate for incidents of hates crimes. "I was surprised by that," San Leandro Police Chief Jeff Tudor told the council Monday night. "We did research." Tudor said he did not believe hate crimes in the city were trending up, though, he did not deny the FBI's crime statistic. The increased rate, instead, was due to San Leandro police officer's reporting. "We erred on the side of caution," he said, causing the rates to increase.

--SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS-- San Leandro Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter said Monday night that she wants a work session in coming months to discuss the city's general use of surveillance cameras, including red-light traffic cameras. She also urged the issue of data retention to be included in the proposed session.

--CITY MANAGER REVIEW-- San Leandro City Manager Chris Zapata was absent from Monday night's meeting, but Deputy City Manager Jeff Kay said the council will meet in closed session prior to the Dec. 4 council meeting for Zapata's performance review.

--ALSO: San Leandro severs $700,000 investment with Wells Fargo over scandals, pipeline support

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