The following are the full comments by Davis City Councilmember Brett Lee to the Davis Vanguard from Tuesday evening on the city of Davis’ police military vehicle.
I think that when we look at some of these broader issues such as the militarization of the police, the recent escalation of violence in Missouri and the troubling tendency of institutional censorship we should take a step back and think about some basic fundamentals.
We live in a free society where the presumption is innocent until proven guilty, we have the right to assembly, the freedom of the press and the right to free speech. I am deeply troubled when these basic rights are ignored.
Your specific question to me was about the Davis Police Department’s receipt of a hand me down armored vehicle from the military. Let me go on a slight detour to give some background on my thinking here.
Every other week or so, we all receive bulk mail (my friends who work for the post office won’t let me call it junk mail) in our mail boxes which includes coupons for pizza, car repairs, etc. Often there is also an ad for a Sacramento gun store which sells high powered military style semi-automatic rifles. Even nearby shops sell these types of weapons.
I mention this to highlight that these weapons are freely available in our society (we have even had individuals arrested in our community that have been in possession of these types of weapons).
In addition, even in peaceful Davis we have had armed hostage situations (old timers will remember the incident at Wells Fargo).
The current police cruisers do not provide full protection from the types of high powered rifles that are currently being sold legally.
So back to your question. So, if we know there is a heavily armed person (high powered firearms) who is actively threatening others, do we ask our police officers to approach that person knowing that the officers’ protective equipment is insufficient to provide adequate protection? I think ideally that we would want the police to have the appropriate level of protection.
I believe that the real key is matching the approach/behavior/equipment to the situation. For example, we often read (or see) the inappropriate use of tasers on individuals who are peaceably protesting. That is unacceptable.
When we peaceable assemble to protest the aerial spraying of pesticides or tuition increases, the use of riot gear, armored vehicles, etc. is not acceptable in my opinion.
If on the other hand if we have an armed individual or individuals that are actively threatening our safety, by all means lets make use of the appropriate tools and protective equipment in a responsible manner.
I think we as a community want the police to use the tactics and equipment appropriate to the situation.
While the image of a military armored vehicle can understandably cause us unease, it is my understanding that it will only be used under very exceptional circumstances.
We depend on the training and judgment of the police. The willy nilly or casual use of pepper spray, tasers, physical force and of course deadly force is never acceptable. I believe that our police force has shown they are understanding of their role in our community and of our high expectations. We are a community; the police are a part of our community not an occupying force.
So to answer your question succinctly – sadly we live in a nation where sometimes we must be prepared for the extreme circumstance; so yes, I am comfortable accepting a free donation of the armored vehicle with the clear understanding that the police will only use it under very narrow circumstances.