By Erik Galicia
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted June 30 to adopt a resolution making the sheriff’s department the authorized agent to accept a federal anti-terrorism grant of $658,887.
The decision came just one week after the board’s 3-2 vote to approve a budget that provides $351 million in county money for the sheriff’s department. The board made it clear that the extra funding, which comes from the 2019 State Homeland Security Program Grant, has no impact on county funds.
“This is not county money,” Supervisor Chuck Washington said. “It’s grant funding and it comes with strings attached.”
Those strings, according to the sheriff’s department’s submittal to the board, are that the grant money must be used for terrorism training, the purchase of one bomb suit for the Hazardous Device Team, and mobile device security software. The documents presented during the meeting did not specify how much of the $658,887 would be spent on each item.
All public commenters urged the board to vote no on the resolution.
“Considering you just approved a 3% budget increase, why does the sheriff’s department need $658,000 more,” a commenter identified only as Corina asked the board. “This is not moral.”
Corina questioned what “terrorism training” actually entails and what terrorism threats are posed to Riverside County. According to Washington, releasing that information would be counterproductive to anti-terrorism.
“Some of that stuff needs to be closely held if it is to be effective in gathering of intelligence for foreign adversaries that want to attack Southern California,” Washington said. “To alert the public as to what terror threats we might be reacting to, wouldn’t that have the effect of alerting the terrorists?”
According to Supervisor Karen Spiegel, the purchase of a bomb suit and anti-terrosism training is necessary and standard practice among law enforcement agencies. Spiegel said the training would allow county law enforcement to effectively respond to state or federal calls for assistance when dealing with bomb threats and other terrorism.
Public speakers expressed concern that such anti-terrorism funding would go toward the suppression of Black Lives Matter protesters.
“Black Lives Matter is not a terrorist organization,” Rachell Michelle said. “Our terrorist organization right now is the people in the police department. You can’t just keep throwing money at a department that is hurting people.”
Michelle added that anti-racism and anti-excessive force training is needed for police officers, rather than terrorism training.
Washington, who was a Delta Airlines pilot during the time of 9/11, argued that terrorism is a concern that requires continued observance along with fighting racial injustice, but said the two are not the same thing.
Another commenter, Lisa Marie Betancourt, was unconvinced by Washington’s argument and the board’s explanations for why terrorism training and equipment are necessary.
“Given our current climate, we are fully justified in believing this anti-terrorism force will be directed at Black Lives Matter protesters and organizations,” Betancourt said. “It’s no coincidence that the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists and neo nazis are not labeled terrorist organizations but our Black Lives Matter brothers and sisters are.”
Betancourt also accused the board of acting as a tool of white supremacy and contributing to the oppression and over-policing of the community.
No representatives of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department responded to the concerns of public speakers. Despite his expressed support for the monitoring of terrorism, Washington, along with Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, dissented from the majority. The two did the same when the board approved the county budget June 23.