The Davis City Council on Tuesday voted to return the MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle). While we can argue about whether that was a wise decision, I really don’t believe the council had any choice. The overwhelming sentiment in the community has been shock and disbelief that we would think we needed the weapon.
I can understand the view of both Brett Lee and Rochelle Swanson that we might want to examine all elements over the next four weeks before making a final decision. I think both recognized the problematic process involved in getting the vehicle without consulting with council first, and did not want to replicate the mistake in the other direction.
That said, I think – from the standpoint of the community – there was never going to be a point where the community accepted the vehicle’s presence and it threatened to become a distraction from other, frankly more pressing, needs. So, from that standpoint, the right decision was made by council.
On Thursday, during the Davis Human Relations Commission Meeting, Assistant Chief Darren Pytel noted that there have not been any recent officer involved shootings in Davis nor any recent officer fatalities. It is not that it cannot happen, as we saw in the last ten years with both CHP Officer Andy Stevens and Sheriff’s Deputy Tony Diaz in Yolo County, but it is not a frequent happening and in neither of those cases would possession of an MRAP have made any difference.
That is really where I not only disagree with a column by Jeff Neithercutt in the local paper, but take exception to over-the-top hyperbolic rhetoric.
He argues, “Don’t sentence our police to death,” implying the existence of an imminent threat that would be solved with the MRAP.
He writes, “By definition, our police are a reactive force. Police do not invade your home, they come when you call them. Police do not hunt protesters, they come to protests to protect the protesters from the idiots who come to the protests bent on violent acts because they believe our leaders aren’t responding quickly enough to peaceful protests.”
While an interesting point, it actually does not square with police conduct where, at times, the police have mishandled protests and created problems where none existed. Look no further than November 18, 2011, on the UCD Quad, where the police turned what would have been a harmless protest into an incident that was a national embarrassment.
Mr. Neithercutt notes, “When police are called to react to a situation, they must respond, assess the threat, gather resources and attempt to protect all parties’ rights, even if that means taking insults from peacefully but vocally protesting citizens. Where it gets out of hand is when they start taking bottles filled with urine, or rocks or lighted road flares.”
He asks, “Do we expect them to just stand there and be injured?” So he believes the appropriate response to a protest is for police to arrive in the MRAP? Does he not understand that the presence of such a vehicle would not only intimidate peaceful protesters but inflame the passions of those who already do not trust the government and police? Does he not understand that the best way for police to handle those situations is to pull back and that a single vehicle isn’t going to change the fact that most officers will have to stand out at a protest in riot gear with shields and other protection?
“Why would our leaders give the brave men and women at the Davis Police Department, who willingly go out every day wearing a big target on their backs for each and every one of us, a death sentence? That’s what it really is, folks.”
And yet the police do that all the time and the MRAP is not going to change any of that. A single MRAP vehicle may give police some cover at times, but, for the most part, police are still going to be vulnerable in a highly-charged situation.
He continues, “If we return this defensive weapon, which is the only thing between the brave folks at DPD and some maniac with an AK-47, we are sentencing those officers to death. Their soft body armor will not even slow down the high-powered rounds being fired by almost every mass shooting suspect.”
He adds, “And we can all agree that after more than 300 rounds were fired, and 14 police vehicles were hit more than 10 times by high-powered weaponry in Stockton, it’s not a matter of if, people, but when.”
But here’s the problem, it is a matter of “if” in that it has not happened in Davis and, indeed, it does not happen in most communities.
Moreover, he cites the incident in Stockton. Well the Stockton police have access to military vehicles, but they were not helpful in the recent bank robbery because that became a high speed pursuit and the MRAP is not going to be involved in such a situation. So there is a clear case where having an MRAP would have made absolutely no difference.
He concludes his piece arguing, “Give the SWAT officers time to negotiate, give them a place to safely block the bullets of the madman while negotiations continue, rather than forcing them to kill the gunman as quickly as possible to save their own lives. Do not sentence our officers to death just because you think their ARV is ugly.
“Shame on our City Council majority for sentencing our officers to great bodily injury and death just because they can’t stomach what is happening in every community around us. It’s coming here, folks, and I, for one, pray the Davis Police Department has an ARV when it gets here.”
Mr. Neithercutt misses a lot of points here. The community did not sentence our officers to great bodily injury or death. The community did not oppose the MRAP because they thought it was ugly.
The problem that people had was that the vehicle, as Robb Davis put it, “symbolizes the most destructive force on the planet which is the US Military.” More importantly, it symbolizes blurring the critical lines between civilian police and military power that threatens to reduce our ability to be free, in the name of safety and security – and really, in most situations, only the appearance of safety and security.
The council majority did not sentence our officers to either great bodily injury or death, but they didn’t make this decision because they couldn’t stomach what is happening in surrounding communities. They did it because this community did not want the MRAP and had they persisted in keeping it, the voters would have put an initiative on the ballot and gotten rid of it themselves.
I listened very carefully to Landy Black and Darren Pytel on their reasoning. It was an eye opener to see the cachet of weapons found in this community, but, in the end, I think the chance that we will need the vehicle and that it will be useful is far exceeded by the idea that the vehicle will never be used and, if it is used, it will be used in situations that could have been handled better.
I appreciate the Chief’s explanation on mission creep and the reluctance of police to use tools of this sort, but I have also seen the proliferation of the use of Tasers where they were not needed.
I think there are so few situations where the MRAP is actually needed that we ought to be much more worried about the trend of police militarization and the encroachment on civil liberties. We did not sentence police to death or injury, we have simply said that, in our community, military weapons will not be acceptable.
Mr. Neithercutt would have been better advised to have come to council at the time of the decision to present his ideas, rather than offering them up after the decision has already been made. The community on Tuesday night really has spoken.
—David M. Greenwald reporting