Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis Speaks Out on MRAP

Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis interviewed by the Vanguard on Sunday

Last week, the Vanguard first reported on the city of Davis’ acquisition of the MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle through the federal 1033 Program.

This acquisition was authorized through the 2009 city council Resolution 09-033 which Police Chief Landy Black said “(renewed) authorization for the Davis Police Department to acquire surplus federal/military equipment suitable for use in conventional law enforcement activities through the 1033 Program of the Defense Logistics Agency, Law Enforcement Support Office (DLA/LESO).”

In the initial article, three city councilmembers – Mayor Dan Wolk, Councilmember Lucas Frerichs and Councilmember Brett Lee – issued statements to the Vanguard. Councilmember Lee would offer more extensive comments published separately in defense of the program while the mayor and Councilmember Frerichs were more critical.

Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis declined comment, citing the fact that he had not yet spoken to city staff. On Sunday, the mayor pro tem sat down for a video interview (see below) and explained his position on the program.

“I don’t think we need this equipment,” Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis told the Vanguard on Sunday. “This equipment would be used so infrequently” that we have to question whether we want to expend the time and money to keep and maintain the equipment.

The mayor pro tem said he was on vacation on August 6 when he heard about the program for the first time. He said that what struck him was the concept of risk and “in particular the risk of fairly low probability events.” He said that “this vehicle, the way it has been described to me and the uses that have been proposed would really only be used in events that are low probability.”

“As a society, I think that what we have done because of the way our news cycle runs,” he said, “we have taken things that are fairly low probability and in our minds we have raised this to this type of thing happens fairly often.”

Mayor Pro Tem Davis said he is troubled by this need to show we are ready even for very low probability events. “We seem to be sending the message to our population that we seem to think we need to obtain material to protect ourselves against all possible loss of life. We somehow think if we have all the right things we can somehow reduce (the loss of life).”

He said, “I think that’s a broader societal issue.” He said that when police attempt to acquire these vehicles that in a sense they are responding to the societal demand that risks be reduced. He pointed out that this buildup of military weaponry is happening during an era when violent crime and crime across the board have been declining for a sustained period of time.

“Even as we are decreasing the incidence of violent crime, we seem to have the need to increase our response even to a very rare event,” he said. “I think we need to ask ourselves if that’s the direction we need to go.”

Despite his disagreement with the program, Mayor Pro Tem Davis expressed overall satisfaction with the way the police department is being run and the way police are doing their job in the community.

He said that public safety has as mature an approach and leadership as any agency in the city. He said, “I don’t view what’s happened here as indicating a flaw. I think Chief Black and his staff have done an amazing job to improve the connect with the community.”

Instead, he sees this as “a general lack of trust which I think permeates our society.” He also said that, while our current police force may be mature and responsible, we also have to think about the future and the potential for future police to be less constrained in their use of this equipment.

On Tuesday, the city council has an agenda item to discuss this issue. Robb Davis told the Vanguard that regardless of what happens he thinks we need to have a conversation as a community about this.

“Whatever happens with this particular piece of equipment,” Mr. Davis stated, “I expect we’ll put into place some guidelines so that in the future we can have a closer policy analysis… or even ask the question as to whether even continue this program.”

See the full video here:

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Frankly

    Robb Davis surfs the middle ground of objectivity very well here. He does not call it a “tank”, nor does he unfairly and inappropriately cast criticisms at the police chief.

    But I think he is missing a big point here. He talks about the low probability of needing to use this tool. But he then needs to consider what is the actual risk of not having the tool when needed. That risk is 100% the potential harm or loss of life of our law enforcement personnel. In my opinion we should be risk averse about that.

    You don’t have to think very deeply to understand the conflict here. It is the immaterial harm of inflamed sensitivities based on a specific worldview over preventing the potential material harm to police officers.

    And in addition, the tool might also be needed/used to position in-between an active shooter and victims needed an escape route or injured and in need of medical care.

    Low probability? We certainly hope so. Just like we hope we do not need our fire trucks and the assault rifles that the police SWAT team owns and trains with.

    Another point relative to probability is that the city contains a university that is world renown. it is also a global leader in food and ag science… including GMO research and development. The potential attraction for many types of global and domestic terrorism exceeds that for most other cities our size.

    Lastly, we cannot even conceive of the potential uses for a tool like this. Consider a train derailment with explosive potential and victims needing to be extracted.

    The potential benefits are obvious, real and measurable.

    The opposition only has a complaint of sensitivity.

    1. Mark West

      “Lastly, we cannot even conceive of the potential uses for a tool like this. Consider a train derailment with explosive potential and victims needing to be extracted.”


      I commend you for your creativity in trying to justify spending 10’s of thousands per year to stockpile this vehicle. While I find it curious that you would be advocating spending our limited resources on what is clearly a low priority item, this ‘lastly’ justification of yours is nonsensical. The vehicle is designed to protect the occupants primarily from explosions from underneath (land mines) and small arms fire. It has limited or no capability of surviving the blast and heat from a tank car explosion and therefore would have little or no value in your scenario. It might however give the occupants (or more likely their commanders) a false sense of security, thus putting even more people at risk.

      1. Alan Miller

        Yeah, ditto that. Explosive force from a land mine isn’t the same as incinerating heat from an oil tank car burning. The occupants of the not-a-tank would be roasted alive in that thing.

    2. Robb Davis

      Frankly – There are two probabilities here: 1) the probability of an event that would THEORETICALLY call for its use. I say “theoretically” because even the scenarios laid out in which it could be used may not actually call for or even permit its use. And that is the second probability: 2) the probability that it will be a useful tool in the described scenarios. I raise the second probability because of my experience as a participant (potential victim) in a live shooting simulation at UC Davis (I discuss it in the interview but the sound quality is too poor to capture it). In that situation even though the general parameters were known, in discussing the outcome with various police participants afterward, I was struck by their description of a “wholly unpredictable” event that had “non-linearities” that rendered even their careful planning and preparation difficult to implement. So my point is that even the proposed uses may not turn out to be actual uses at all.

      Beyond all of this though is a critical point that I think we must come to grips with and that I struggle with: is it responsible to send the message to our community that it is possible (let alone fiscally possible) to prepare for and respond to low probability risks? We seem to have a tacit belief that if we invest enough and obtain the right kind of technology that we can prepare for any eventuality. I do not believe we can and thus weighing risks, costs AND community desires are all reasonable things to do in my view.

      1. Frankly

        Robb – good stuff.

        Here is my thinking. If we have to spend a lot for this type of “insurance policy” then I agree that the low probability of use-justifying events would tend to not justify the expense.

        But as I understand the cost is near neutral since it will replace another vehicle with much less potential utility.

        If it is near neutral in cost, because it clearly provides potential utility as an insurance policy, then it would only be emotional reasons that justify our rejection or disposal of this tool. Either this or else a collective distrust that the police would use the tool appropriately. And neither of these reasons cut it, IMO.

        As I understand, the police already have a tool in service that this would replace. If so, then why the controversy over need now and not previously?

        1. Mark West


          1. See the comments above (and the inferred related costs) about training. This is not a near neutral cost item. At best, it will be a net negative cost item somewhere in the $50-100,000 per year range, at a time when we don’t have surplus funds.

          2. If we are going to attempt to insulate ourselves against ‘potential though very low probability risks,’ when are we going to start building the City’s asteroid shield?

          Yes I am being unnecessarily facetious to make a point. We do not need this vehicle, no matter how much you hope to find a justification for keeping it.

          Send it back, Robb.

          1. Michelle Millet

            My guess is that asteroid shields are not cost neutral.

            But I agree if it s true that we don’t need this vehicle then we should send it back, so that it can be used by communities that would find it useful. That being said I don’t see how keeping it, especially if it is indeed cost neutral, is doing the community any harm.

    3. darelldd

      >> The opposition only has a complaint of sensitivity.

      Not only is this inaccurate, it is also quite tiresome to hear your proclamation of what the opposition thinks or feels after many of your posts. Please tell us your side of things. What YOU think. And refrain from putting words in others mouths. It is presumptuous at best, and inflammatory at worst. If you are right and the “opposition” is saying what you expect they’ll say, then it’ll be said plenty enough. If you are wrong… well, you’re wrong.

      I’m not “sensitive” to this thing at all. I’m just not that delicate. However, let me get all conservative on you for a moment: It’s a huge waste of resources (money, training etc). I guess you could call me a fiscal conservative in this regard. This thing will be about as revenue neutral as owning a helicopter. We can’t just get this thing for free, then store it away in a cupboard for that time when we decided it might be needed. Moving it anywhere (for training or anything else) will burn an obscene amount of fuel, and it will significantly damage our already crumbling roads. The regular maintenance needed to keep it instantly deployable will be well beyond any traditional vehicle that may have been traded out of the stable to make room for this. The tires won’t last forever… priced those lately? For this thing to be useful it’ll have to be vigilantly maintained for… basically nothing.

        1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          According to the Military Times website, in the event of a chemical attack, fish living in an MRAP can survive in fine form. Thus, to the fish at least, it is a tank, even if calling it a tank is not politically correct in all quarters.

          1. Alan Miller

            I saw a film of a living room in Napa with a large fish tank toppled. Perhaps if we replaced every $200 fish tank with a $700,000 MRAP, we could save a lot of fish during earthquakes. And don’t call them fish tanks. They are fish MRAPs.

          1. Offering Balance

            I think it does matter, at least somewhat. Tanks generally have cannons or very large caliber guns mounted to the top. They are a great offensive weapon. What Davis received is not that. It was designed in part to protect the occupants. If there was a 50 cal mounted on top I would be 100% with you.

            Referring to it as a tank invokes an emotional response based on what someone THINKS it is rather than what it actually is. I prefer to stay factual.

          2. Alan Miller

            “Referring to it as a tank invokes an emotional response based on what someone THINKS it is rather than what it actually is. I prefer to stay factual.”

            So is an alien that is here illegally, an “illegal alien”? Is your (I refer to all reading this) answer to this question based on fact or an emotional response?

          3. Mark West

            “They are a great offensive weapon. What Davis received is not that. It was designed in part to protect the occupants.”

            To the typically unarmed public, when this rolls out filled with heavily armed police officers it will be perceived as an offensive weapon. That is what it was designed for, and that is exactly how it will be viewed.

          4. Michelle Millet

            I’m much concerned with “heavily armed police” then the vehicle they are driving.

  2. Michelle Millet

    In theory I don’t have problem with the police owning this vehicle, I see it as a defensive piece of equipment. But I agree with Robb in the sense that sometimes the “costs” associated with taking protective measures out weigh the benefits that come with these measures. My question is how often the police would potentially use this vehicle to keep officers safe, and how much will this vehicle cost to store and maintain.

    1. David Greenwald

      IF they end up using it once I’d be very surprised.

      In terms of the cost, this is what the city claims:

      “Use of the newly acquired rescue vehicle is anticipated to be cost neutral. Davis currently owns a converted ambulance, with no ballistic protection capabilities, for SWAT use. Although the vehicle can carry personnel and equipment, it offers no ballistic protection. The converted ambulance will be removed from the fleet and it will be replaced by the newly acquired vehicle. The ambulance’s annual maintenance cost of about $4,500 is expected to cover routine
      maintenance of the new vehicle, and replacements parts, such as tires, are available – for free – through the 1033 program.”

      Now that’s not truly cost neutral, they’ve just offset the cost of the ambulance for the vehicle and if they got rid of the vehicle they think it will be about $4500. However, I’ve heard from some that there are some initial costs and that it has some wear. But we’ll see.

      1. Michelle Millet

        If it is cost neutral I don’t really see a problem with the police having this type of vehicle at their disposal. Again it appears to me to be a defensive vehicle. I’m unclear of what nefarious acts the police could use it for.

        1. Barack Palin

          Get ready for it Michelle, I totally agree with you. Now Michelle, pick yourself up off of the floor.

          As for the nefarious acts by our police our local liberals can dream up many scenarios. Tiananmen Square, Kent State, Ferguson, crashing down houses to serve warrants, running over protesters, etc………….
          They don’t seem to have much faith in our police dept.

          1. Michelle Millet

            Even if I had no faith in a police department I don’t think I would be concerned with them possessing and/or using this vehicle. What harm, and I’m not asking rhetorically, can it do?

            It could be argued that using it creates a “safer scene”. I’m trying to understand how this could possibly be a bad thing?

          2. Davis Progressive

            i think the harm is more symbolic than anything else, but police intimidation is a potential problem.

        2. darelldd

          >> how much will this vehicle cost to store and maintain.

          Yes, that’s the elephant in the room. I keep hearing “cost neutral” and wonder where that could possibly come from. If we get rid of an un-used truck or van or sedan to make room for this, it is by no means an even trade in “cost to maintain and store.” The cost to store, maintain and train on this thing will certainly be significantly more than any traditional vehicle. And what of the cost of damage to our roads? Did I hear correctly that it weighs 20,000 tons? That has to be a mistake, yes?

          I wonder (and hope…) is a special license needed to drive this thing on city streets?

        1. Michelle Millet

          If using it creates a safer situation for themselves and citizens then I hope they would choose to use it. I’m still not understanding the concern.

          1. Barack Palin

            Once again Michelle I’m in total agreement. But as of now I don’t think it’s worth the aggravation of giving the Davis liberals a cause to protest. So get rid of it and hope it doesn’t cost an officer or a civilian their life because we didn’t have access to it.

        2. hpierce

          Looking at he published agenda, if they ‘pass a resolution’ to get rid of it, they will be in violation of the Brown Act. No such resolution appears.

    2. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      “My question is how often the police would potentially use this vehicle to keep officers safe, and how much will this vehicle cost to store and maintain.”

      Those are the right questions. There is another question which comes to my mind: How often will the DPD have to train on this equipment? And how much will that training program cost?

      If you think it is never, that it will simply lie in storage until that once in one thousand year flood comes along, I think you are mistaken. For one thing, a military machine, like any vehicle, needs to have its engine run to stay in working order. And the police officers* who will be expected to operate the machine will have to know how all of its parts and tools work, and to know, if they are not functioning properly, to recognize its faults. Thus, every now and then they will have to take this out for a ride. And insofar as the department has turnover, more and more officers on an ongoing basis will have to be trained on how to operate it. Additionally, the other officers who will be expected to defeat “an active shooter” will need to regularly train in that role using the MRAP. So in all likelihood, each time the vehicle is taken out for training purposes, quite a few DPD people, probably including the chief or his top lieutenant, will need to come along.

      * This is a side issue of the MRAP. But this kind of vehicle will add to our pension burden. If you have been following the actions of CalPERS’ pension spiking plans of late–a decision PERS made after the unions put two more new members on their board–the extra pay our police officers will make for knowing how to operate this machine (much like the extra pay we give to those who are bilingual and those who ride motorcycles) will be used to spike up their pensions. While Gov. Brown vehemently opposed the PERS decision last week, the unions overrode him and, as always, got their way.

      1. Jim Frame

        each time the vehicle is taken out for training purposes, quite a few DPD people, probably including the chief or his top lieutenant, will need to come along.

        I hope we aren’t going to be subjected to an Enterprise photo of Landy Black sitting in the turret wearing some oversized headphones…

  3. Davis Progressive

    it’s interesting that robb didn’t seem to commit to supporting a motion to return the vehicle. also we need the resolution to be re-written curtailing the authorization and requiring the council to approve new acquisitions.

    1. PhilColeman

      I don’t think Robb has anything to support just now as no such motion has been made. The increasingly popular suggestion we return the vehicle assumes the Defense Department will take back something they were trying to get rid of.

      If the vehicle could be returned to its original owners, is that economically responsible given its $6,000 shipping charge? Maybe we should, instead, return to the idea of the half-burial in a local city park and the kids can play on it. Those of our neighbors who are opposed to war, specifically and generally, would probably gleefully respond to the park with shovels. The burial would be quite symbolic, and I’m serious when I say that.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        For decades there was a fighter plane on 19th Avenue in San Francisco that children loved to play on, until liberals were successful in having it removed because of supposed fear of “lead paint”. Hence, I don’t think the park idea would work.

        Maybe offer it to Sacramento, Fresno, or Los Angeles.

  4. Biddlin

    “I hope we aren’t going to be subjected to an Enterprise photo of Landy Black sitting in the turret wearing some oversized headphones…”

    I’d think jodhpurs, chromed helmet and riding crop would be they way to go….

    1. Robb Davis

      Tsk, tsk Alan–are you technically permitted to write “sh***y” given the new comment guidelines? 😉

      Note to self: Ask David to do a sound check next time.

  5. Michelle Millet

    In my former life I completed an EMT training course. One thing that was drilled into us during the training was that we should NEVER, EVER, enter an “unsafe scene” even if that meant letting someone die. Looking at this vehicle through that lens I see an opportunity to make an “unsafe scene” safe for police and/or rescue workers. Luckily situations that would require us to use this type of vehicle to “secure a scene ” in Davis are rare. But if the vehicle does not come at great expense, I see value in having available to us.

  6. TrueBlueDevil

    Mayor Davis says that crime is down overall, and for a sustained period, but didn’t we also have 4 murders last year in Davis? The national trend may be down, but the Davis trend from years past appears to have spiked.

    1. Frankly

      This actually makes some sense. I think the police would be more effective wearing tie die t-shirts and bell-bottom jeans and just carrying clipboards and ask protestors to describe what is bothering them while taking notes.

      Then the police can come back to the office and write it up so they themselves feel accomplished and useful.

      But aren’t we talking about bombs and active shooter situations?

      1. Mark West

        Actually, I think mission creep is a much greater risk than either an active shooter or explosion situations. Give someone an expensive toy and they will start looking for reasons to use it.

    1. Davis Progressive

      michelle – i’m disappointed you miss the point that when you give police military style vehicles, they begin to think of themselves as military rather than civilian police. that was a huge problem in ferguson – it’s not just the symbolism, it’s the action attached to that symbolism.

  7. Tia Will

    I am no expert in LE. What I do have is experience in equipment acquisition. Operating equipment is a major expense. Even if a major piece of equipment is going to be supplied by an outside source ( lets say for the purpose of a large study) there are many details that need to be worked out first that involve coordination with other members of the hospital “community”.
    1. Is the piece of equipment truly compatible with the kinds of procedures that we perform or are ever likely to
    perform. Some equipment may be perfectly designed for a combat field hospital and inappropriate for my
    gynecologic cases. If I cannot make a case for the regular use of the equipment, perhaps another approach
    would be better.
    2. Is the piece of equipment compatible with equipment and skills that we already have ?
    3. What is the possibility that a surgeon under a stressful situation may decide to attempt to use the piece of
    equipment for a purpose for which it was not intended ? I have personally seen some cases of improvisation
    that worked out well…..some not so much so.
    4. Could the funds needed for maintenance and training be better directed to other uses within OR or within other
    areas of the hospital ?
    5. How will maintenance of the complicated piece of equipment be maintained. Do we have the expertise to do
    it ourselves, or will outside help be required and how will it be funded ?

    These are not questions that can be answered by one department alone. There is always collaborative planning to decide if the equipment I want from my limited perspective of doing my job optimally and safely really provides the intended benefit. This requires input from anesthesia( compatibility) , hospital administration ( potential approval of outside contracts), the OR supervisor ( space and room turnover planning), nursing ( will they be able to provide adequate training for their staff) and all of this is appropriate and necessary to the smooth functioning
    of the OR and hospital overall.

    It is the lack of coordinated, collaborative planning, and the lack of evidence based decision making that I see as the two biggest problems in the process of the MRAP acquisition. I see no nefarious intent on the part of the police. I do see a lack of communication with other community leaders that would be unacceptable in equipment
    acquisition as I know it.

  8. Napoleon Pig IV

    Meanwhile, out in the pasture, most sheep don’t give a damn about the not-a-tank or what the Dear Leaders at the top of the porcine pinnacle of power decide to do with their “free stuff” as long as they don’t mess up the tranquility of the pasture. After all, pigs will be pigs and sheep will be sheep.

    1. BrianRiley429

      Alan Miller just said in front of the City Council that we (Davisites) should: “stick our foot into Valero’s ass and break it off.” (not in relation to the MRAP discussion)

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