Arlington residents question “excessive” tactics in regional disaster drill

(STAR-TELEGRAM)   A group of 25 people angrily left the City Council chambers Tuesday night after voicing objections to this weekend’s regional disaster drill, saying it is a “militarization of the police.”

The North Central Texas Council of Governments is sponsoring the Urban Shield exercise Friday through Sunday to test the region’s ability to respond to terrorist events and other emergencies that could happen simultaneously throughout North Texas.

Police officers and firefighters will go through several training exercises including school shooting scenarios and mass transportation incidents. Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, Garland, Grand Prairie and other area cities will participate.

But the training exercises became controversial to some people after they learned that first responders in Boston had been through the training before the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing. Protesters said the tactics that first responders reportedly learned were excessive when it came to searching for the bombers.

“What happened in Boston won’t be allowed here by the population. That will be a danger to everyone. The way they went through people’s homes. The way they pointed weapons,” said Douglas Bell, 33, a disabled veteran who was among four residents who spoke in opposition Tuesday night. “Our people should not be trained to do that. It is unnecessary.”

Mayor Robert Cluck defended the joint exercise, saying the city often engages in preparedness exercises because public safety is complicated and everyone needs to know what their job is in an emergency.

“Clearly the world is more dangerous, but this exercise is not prompted by any one recent incident,” Cluck said earlier Tuesday.

Future events such as the 2014 NCAA Final Four at AT&T Stadium increase the city’s need to be prepared, Arlington Fire Chief Don Crowson said. His department will train on scenarios including collapsed buildings.

“The Urban Shield exercise is simply just that — it’s an exercise in preparedness, for man-made and natural emergencies,” Crowson said. “It keeps our people safe. We protect our community through these efforts.”

Exactly where most of the training will be conducted has not been disclosed. One exercise will be at Tarrant County College Northwest Campus in Fort Worth. The council of governments said it will disclose more details about the event today.

The training is being paid for with homeland security grants.

Urban Shield is a national first responder training program conducted by Cytel Group.

On Oct. 25, a group called the “Facing Urban Shield Action Network” protested in front of a Marriott Hotel in Oakland, Calif., where the city was hosting its annual Urban Shield disaster training exercise.

A member of the network told CBS San Francisco that the training was creating “militarization of police” and that “the war is coming to our streets.”

On Tuesday night, Jacob Cordoba, 26, of Arlington questioned the cities’ and council of governments’ right to run the terror drills.

“We saw an entire city locked down under martial law when two brothers killed three people,” Cordoba said, adding that officers in the Boston area were reportedly pointing rifles in residents’ faces and entering homes without warrants to search for the suspects.

Renee Barrett, 42, drove to the Arlington council meeting from her home in Euless. She was in the group that angrily left the chambers.

“My main concern is the militarization of the police. Our country is turning into a police state,” Barrett said.

Bell said he and others standing outside the chambers Tuesday night agreed to show up and protest when they find out where the exercises will be conducted.


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