Tech industry, military tactics and police meet at Urban Shield weapons expo

In its 10th year, the warfare expo attracts SWAT teams from several police departments, including the University of California and Mexicos federal police

Amid a startling array of weaponry and defensive gear, several exhibitors at Urban Shield, the annual northern California police exhibition, were displaying robots similar to the model that was used to kill the gunman who fatally shot five Dallas officers in July.

You could do the same thing with our robot, said Dan Murphy of ICOR Technology. Dallas police reportedly placed a pound of C4 explosives and a detonation device on the robot in what is believed to be the first time in history that a US law enforcement agency used a robot to kill a suspect.

Its the ultimate use, Murphy added.

If they had sent tactical guys in, the first two or three would have died, Matt McAlister of Tactical Electronics said about the Dallas incident. Its the robot or the guys. Either way, the bad guys are going down.

Both ICOR and Tactical Electronics sell robots to the military and to law enforcement. Both Murphy and McAlister said they had received an increase in inquiries about robots from law enforcement agencies since the Dallas shootings.

Urban Shield is the ultimate intersection of law enforcement, the military industrial complex and the tech industry. Now in its 10th year, the Department of Homeland Security-funded event attracts SWAT teams from 40 local and international police departments, including the University of California, Berkeley, and Mexicos federal police.

After checking out the latest gear at the expo, the teams try out gadgets during 36 hours of training scenarios. Each scenario is based on a real-life disaster, which this year included the San Bernardino terrorist attack and Malheur wildlife refuge occupation.

Guns
Guns on display at Urban Shield. Photograph: Julia Carrie Wong for the Guardian

The event has also consistently drawn protests, with demonstrators claiming that the annual training exercise for law enforcement and first responder departments promot[es] further violence and an increased war mentality by police in marginalized communities.

Its clear that this is not about public safety, said Alicia Bell, an Oakland resident who was chained to the entrance of the Alameda County fairgrounds. Policing and militarization do not keep our community safe.

Its a warfare expo, added General Dogon, who traveled to the protest from Los Angeles. They come in and show police how to catch a homeless person. This is not what we want in a civilized society in 2016.

This year, standing across the street from about 500 anti-police protesters, Janis and Dennis Mulhall were the sole pro-police voices.

We support our police & firemen, Janis Mulhalls sign read. I dont believe in the conspiratorial theory that this is all leading up to a police state, she added.

Despite the Mulhalls stance, the nexus between military tactics and domestic policing was proudly on display inside the exhibition hall.

Rob Stout, a sales manager for BAE Systems, showed off his companys geospatial exploitation products (GXP) a type of map originally designed for the military that BAE began marketing to law enforcement departments about two years ago (around the same time that the police response to the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, launched a national debate about the militarization of US police departments).

Stout showed off a demo of a typical crime area in Newark, New Jersey, and boasted that the New Jersey state police had used BAEs products when they were called in to help quell the protests in Baltimore that arose following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.

Protesters
Protesters block the entrance to Urban Shield. Photograph: Julia Carrie Wong for the Guardian

Jennifer Kellogg Varma showed off a lighting system that she said was being tested by a Bay Area agency for use during nighttime sweeps of the homeless.

In addition to legacy companies such as Verizon, Motorola, Dell and Samsung, the expo was home to some startups looking to get a piece of the billions of dollars spent by law enforcement agencies each year.

Senworth, a Sacramento-based startup with fewer than 10 employees, displayed next generation police body cameras. The company is attempting to break into the lucrative market currently dominated by Taser.

WhiteFox Defense Technologies, a startup from San Luis Obispo, California, showed off a gadget that can intercept and take control of drones, forcing them to land. The company is hoping to sell to agencies such as California Fire, which has struggled to cope with hobbyists drones while fighting forest fires.

We dont jam, we hijack, said Phil Ramos of the technology. It sounds less legal, but its more legal.

(Nice, free drones, joked one law enforcement official when he heard about the device.)

One product, in particular, that is on the minds of protesters and civil libertarians is the integration of police body cameras with live-streaming and facial recognition software.

It doesnt exist yet, but not to worry, said Bob Dillon of Taser. Everyone is working on it.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/13/urban-shield-weapons-expo-california-police-military