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