This weekend, heavily armored police, SWAT teams, bomb squads, and paramedics will descend upon 20 sites in North Texas--Irving's Stipes Elementary, Tarrant County College's Northwest Campus, Baylor hospital in Dallas, and some barns in Duncanville among them--for the region's inaugural Urban Shield training exercise.
It's funded by the Department of Homeland Security, run by a private contractor, the Cytel Group, and organized locally by the North Central Council of Governments. It is, for all intents and purposes, a gigantic counter-terrorism drill.
Arlington Fire Chief Don Crowson, describing the event to the Arlington City Council on Tuesday night, described it as "an exercise in preparedness, preparedness for man-made and natural emergencies" aimed at ensuring that the public stays safe. "That's all this is."
Richland Hills police spokesman Tye Bell echoed those sentiments to The Dallas Morning News. "To me, it's a comforting thought to know that help is out there if and when you need it."
Not everyone is quite so sanguine about SWAT teams parading through North Texas, even if it is just pretend.
"You're bringing them here to go through our homes like they did in Boston, and I'm really concerned over that," Douglas Bell, a 33-year-old military veteran told the Arlington City Council. "What happened in Boston won't be allowed here by the population...The way they went through people's homes, the way they pointed weapons through people's windows...I do not think that that should be allowed in our city."
Boston had run two Urban Shield in the two years leading up to this spring's marathon bombing that have been credited with helping prepare first responders.
Bell was one of about two dozen people who showed up at Arlington City Hall this week to oppose Urban Shield, which they decried as the "militarization of our police force." Jacob Cordova, another veteran who spoke at the meeting, also raised the specter of the Boston.
"Call it what you want but when you are locked down, not allowed to leave your homes, work, or go to school while militarized units of police roll down your streets pointing rifles in your faces like you're in Iraq or Afghanistan, coming into your homes without warrants and searching you, that is martial law," he said.
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