Analysis: MRAP Brings New York Times To Davis

MRAP
MRAP

It was a Friday afternoon in mid-August. It had been a relatively slow and quiet summer, following a new election and before the big events of fall were set to begin. Suddenly I received a text from someone asking me if I wanted to get a last-second beer.

I had to squeeze it in between meetings, but we agreed on the University of Beer. Sitting down at the bar later that day, the individual handed me a cell phone and said that that is Davis’ new police vehicle. On the cell phone was the infamous photo of the MRAP you see above. I looked incredulously at my companion, thinking this was simply a joke.

“Are you going to send it to me?” I asked. Of course, was the response. My mind was already churning – who knows about this thing? Not many people, it turned out. It took until Monday, but I immediately start inquiring – Who knows? When did they know? It seemed to have been there maybe ten days by the time I found out.

I had been doing this for eight years, and I knew a big story when I saw it. I knew this was an explosive story.

I would hold onto the story until Wednesday for two reasons. First, I wanted to give Police Chief Landy Black a chance to provide a full comment and background, which he did. Second, the police shooting in Woodland happened on Monday and that delayed the story an extra day.

By Tuesday night, I had councilmembers calling me and I ended up getting three councilmembers on the record that night, with Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis later in the week. My intuition was correct – the MRAP story broke our Nancy Peterson records for most unique views in a day. We published the story at 5 am, and by noon the Sacramento Bee had its story with the same statements from council posted. The Davis Enterprise had a story the next day.

Not only had the Vanguard broken the story, it forced the story out into the open. It is difficult to imagine that the MRAP would not have leaked out eventually, but it took ten days to get to the Vanguard, and the council as it turns out was not in the loop when the city obtained the vehicle.

This was really the second time the Vanguard had a story that reached national levels. In 2010, we covered the story of Robert Ferguson, facing life in prison for stealing a $3.99 bag of shredded chief. The Bee did the follow-up story and it would end up in the New York Times and Guardian of London. But those were side stories; this was far bigger.

One thing you learn quickly is you’re never going to get credit when your story blows up and goes national. The bigger fish never acknowledge the small fish that did the grunt work. And that’s fine.

The New York Times coming to Davis is a big deal. The Times reports, “The vehicle, a behemoth in brown camouflage paint, is now parked out of sight in front of a steamroller in a gully next to a city garage; on a recent day, a lone pigeon cooed overhead.”

Would there have been all of this uproar, absent the backdrop of Ferguson? Hard to know. Probably not at a national level. The Ferguson backdrop made it a national story – the first community to turn back the tide of police militarization.

There had been talk that the council’s opposition to the vehicle was weakening.   I noted that in a comment, but I no longer believe that could be the case. The mayor’s comments in the New York Times make that extremely unlikely.

“This thing has a turret — it’s the kind of thing that is used in Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Dan Wolk, the mayor, the New York Times reports. “Our community is the kind of community that is not going to take well to having this kind of vehicle. We are not a crime-ridden city.”

The mayor added: “When it comes to help from Washington we, like most communities, have a long wish list. But a tank, or MRAP, or whatever you choose to call it, is not on that list.”

There is not much room for hedging there.

The Times continues, “The Council’s decision set off waves of concern among police officials across the state and highlighted the fact that California — whose crime rate, like those of many other states, is on the decline — has one of the highest concentrations of surplus military equipment in the nation. That is perhaps not surprising for large cities like Los Angeles, but it is just as true in generally placid seaside getaways like Santa Barbara and here in this quiet community outside Sacramento.”

“At the City Council meeting in Davis where the vote took place, nearly 40 people spoke, and almost everyone urged the Council to return the MRAP. Council members were also deluged with emails,” the Times writes. “The backlash worries some law enforcement officials.”

Christopher Boyd, President of the California Police Chief Association and chief of police in Citrus Heights, said, “Some of the equipment that has been made available to departments has been a real savior. All of this equipment is needed, and this makes obtaining such equipment affordable. Armored vehicles are extremely valuable. They are very expensive. Most police departments cannot afford to buy them.”

The Times reports there is an economic component to this, where the economic downturn forced the police agencies “to contend with budget cuts at the very time that increasingly sophisticated crime-fighting equipment was coming on the market. The Defense Department’s surplus program, along with grants from the Department of Homeland Security to buy matériel, gave officials what was, at least until the vote in Davis, an irresistible opportunity.”

“A number of agencies became very adept at finding what was available,” said Sheriff Bill Brown of Santa Barbara County, whose office used the program to stock up on helicopters, the Times reports. “And that word spread, and it spread at a time when all of our budgets had a tremendous strain on them because of the recession. It allowed departments that had been gutted to obtain the necessary equipment.”

“It’s time to recalibrate what the police are doing, what they have allowed to take over policing,” said Joseph D. McNamara, a former police chief in San Jose, Calif., and Kansas City, Mo., who is now a fellow at the Hoover Institution. “The facts are so overwhelming on the side of getting police back to the side that they are public servants and that you accept the risk. No one drafted you into police work.”

The Times adds, “Davis waited two years to get its armored vehicle, Lt. Thomas W. Waltz said as he used both arms to pull open the huge driver’s-side door. The police chief was given 60 days to report back to the City Council on how to get rid of it.”

Brett Lee, as we know, was the only councilmember to vote against giving back the equipment.

“I wasn’t sure whether we needed one or didn’t need one,” Mr. Lee said in an interview. “Let’s not just send it back until we’ve determined whether we need one or don’t need one.”

The Times acknowledged Davis’ history of sensitivity to “overaggressive policing,” noting the 2011 pepper-spray incident: “Mr. Wolk, the mayor, said the episode had made residents even more wary of the armored car. That wariness is not isolated to Davis.”

Sheriff Brown of Santa Barbara County said there had been “a lot of misunderstanding about the program — in some quarters, even hysteria.”

“The reality is that this is a great program,” he said. “It provides law enforcement with a lot of very valuable equipment that in many instances — in fact, most instances — could not be obtained or afforded, and allows us to do a better job of protecting our citizens and our own public safety personnel.”

The one area that the New York Times really did not get into is why the movement to push back on weapons has exploded so much. They used police officials as the counterweight to Davis without introducing concepts that go back to people like Radley Balko and the ACLU to establish why there is concern about the militarization of police.

That said, overall it was a good article that did not portray Davis in a poor light at all – and, really, as we have all learned, that’s all you can ask.

—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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42 Comments

  1. Michelle Millet

    The mayor added: “When it comes to help from Washington we, like most communities, have a long wish list. But a tank, or MRAP, or whatever you choose to call it, is not on that list.”

    I’m confused by this statement. It’s not a tank, why would we “choose” to call it something it is not?

    1. BrianRiley429

      English is a living language. If people choose to call it a “tank,” then tank is what it is and the word “tank” becomes extended. It’s as simple as that.

  2. Tia Will

    Michelle

    Agreed. And I believe that both sides have employed inaccurate nomenclature to further their view. The vehicle in question is not a “tank” ( comment from the Mayor) nor is it “just a truck” ( comment from the Police Chief). The use of inaccurate terms is not helpful in sorting emotion from fact. The latter being where the subject should be under consideration.

    1. Michelle Millet

      And I believe that both sides have employed inaccurate nomenclature to further their view.

      I would actually say that making a comment about “both sides” is inaccurate nomenclature. I don’t view this issue as having sides. There are a vocal group of people who want to just get rid of this vehicle no questions asked, but I think there is a much larger group who, like me, probably agree with Brett’s statement: “I wasn’t sure whether we needed one or didn’t need one,” Mr. Lee said in an interview. “Let’s not just send it back until we’ve determined whether we need one or don’t need one.”

      1. Tia Will

        Michelle

        You may be right. I believe that there are regarding the MRAP the extremes on both sides.

        There are the no way, no how, not in Davis group. There are the absolutely we should have it because the police believe it will make them safer group. These I wee as David’s ones and fours when he writes about the innovation parks. And then there will be the twos and threes who are inclined one way or the other, but could be persuaded by evidence. However, the fact that there re folks in the middle does not mean that the extremes do not exist. And therefore I will stand by my statement especially since it is the extremes who tend to speak with the loudest voices as Anon has pointed out.

    2. Anon

      Geeeeeeze, it is a truck – it is an armored truck.

      “Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle”
      “Oshkosh Corp., Oshkosh, Wisconsin, was awarded a $1,064.46 million firm-fixed-priced delivery order under previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract W56HZV-09-D-0111 to exercise an option for 1,700 MRAP All Terrain Vehicles…Oshkosh Truck”

      From an article in USA Today: “MRAP trucks near the end of the road in military strategy
      By Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY Updated 6/16/2012 5:13 PM
      WASHINGTON – The Pentagon’s $45 billion investment in armored vehicles to protect troops from roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan has been credited with saving thousands of lives…”

      The police chief clearly stated the MRAP was a truck.

        1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          Bias is the problem. But it is your bias in favor of risk-aversion which is at play, here, Frankly.

          Of course, you are not alone. Our whole society over the last 30 years has become very risk-averse, especially when that involves physical risks. So you and others like you incorrectly conclude in cases like this, well, there may be a one in a million chance this MRAP will save one cop’s life, so we should have it, just in case.

          The problem is that this sort of risk-aversion comes at a huge price which plays out all the time and puts ordinary people and common sense at risk. Rather than having police officers who use common sense and physical skills, we have a force full of fat guys and fat gals who approach every tense situation with undue caution while loaded with overwhelming firepower. The DPD, thanks to the U.S. military, now has 15 new weapons (M14s and M16s) which it can fire at “threats” from well more than a mile away.

          Look, for example, at the recent situation in Davis of the three robbers who the cops were chasing. These idiots practically destroyed their car when they smashed through the barrier from Eureka Drive to College Park. Yet when they came to a dead stop on campus, 2 of the 3 got away easily and are still at bay. The third guy got caught because he fell down on his own. None of the dozen cops in the chase was fast enough on foot to catch the criminals. All they were prepared to do was shoot them at a distance.

          Before our country became so risk-averse, and frankly so fat, cops did not behave this way. They would have run these three robbers down, tackled them and taken them all into custody. But they got away as the cops stood around and held their massive armaments in hand. That is just bad policing. But that is what you get when you want our cops to be terribly risk averse in an MRAP and you don’t require cops to be physically fit.

          1. Matt Williams

            Bias is the problem. But it is your bias in favor of risk-aversion which is at play, here, Frankly.

            Of course, you are not alone. Our whole society over the last 30 years has become very risk-averse, especially when that involves physical risks.

            Risk aversion is the reason that lots of parents drive their children to school rather than having them bicycle or walk to school. The problem is that what they are avoiding isn’t real risk to their children, but rather it is only their perception of risk. We have our “instant access” electronic society to thank for that.

          2. Rich RifkinWDE 73

            I think you have that exactly right, Matt. But it goes far beyond not letting kids ride their bikes to school for fear of possible injury to them or possibly some maniac will intentionally harm their children. This risk-aversion has stopped almost all kids (in Davis, at least) from casually getting together with a group of their peers and just exploring, making up their own games and living the adventures of childhood. The only chance kids have to have any adventure is on a computer. The only physical exercise they get is controlled by their parents and monitored. It’s the whole soccer mom thing. You just never seen 24 kids get together and play soccer or football with no parents around.

            When I was a child in Davis, for example, it was not uncommon for a group of us–say 4 to 8 kids from age 10-13 to bike to Winters or up to Monticello Dam on a summer morning. No one gave it a second thought. No one had an expensive bike. We were kids. No parents told us where to go or where not to go. We just rode our bikes, and made sure we were home by dinner time.

            This morning and yesterday, too, as is usual for me on weekends, I was at Steady Eddy’s in Winters, resting on my bike rides home and having a coffee with dozens of other cyclists. It’s a great respite where just about all bike riders in our region like to take a pit stop. But what you will never see there or out on the county roads are kids out on a bike ride on their own. I ride 600-700 miles a month, and I’ve never once seen kids out biking in the orchards of Yolo or Solano County, something which was common place back in the 1970s and early 1980s.

            And like you said with regard to kids not biking to school, it is the paranoid risk-aversion of parents which has killed so much of what it means to be a kid.

      1. Tia Will

        Anon and Frankly

        Both of you are choosing to ignore my true exception to Chief Blacks characterization of the MRAP. My objection was not to the word “truck”, it was to the phrase “just a truck”. It is a truck with very special properties. It is those properties that are in question, not the issue of how many tires it has.

          1. Tia Will

            BP

            People who have not demonstrated that this is the best approach to achieving that goal. You seem to want facts ( which you claim are lacking) with regard to plastic bags but are willing to accept expert opinion when it comes to the MRAP. No inconsistency there ?

          2. Barack Palin

            Since we already have possesion of the vehicle maybe it should be up to those who feel it’s unsafe to come up with the facts.

    3. tj

      It’s an MRAP – a mine resistant ambush protected vehicle.

      Davis isn’t expecting road mines, nor any ambushes like the ones this vehicle is made to protect against in the Middle East.

      It has special properties which can be used against peacefully protesting citizens.

    4. DavisBurns

      Here is a description of a tank: A tank is a large type of armoured fighting vehicle with tracks, designed for front-line combat. Modern tanks are strong mobile land weapons platforms, mounting a large-calibre cannon in a rotating gun turret.

      The thing we have has had the guns removed but it has a turret, it looks like a tank, it is an armored vehicle with wheels instead of tracks. Since we’ve paved so much of the world, wheels are more versatile than tracks which are more useful on unpaved surfaces. IT LOOKS LIKE A TANK WITH WHEELS! I think everyone has agreed it is an armored vehicle, not a tank so why do we have to continue defending or berating the previous use of the word tank?

  3. Nancy Price

    Still, no one has answered by question: whether or not the metal used to construct the MRAP or other vehicles, helicoptors, etc., contain DU – highly toxic depleted uranium? That needs to be answered clearly and accurately.

  4. Alan Miller

    Semantics are meaningless. The MRAP is what it is. Using exaggerated descriptive terms is a norm in political battles. Everyone is quite clear about what it is and what it has.

    I called it a tank because in the window to stomp civil deployment promptly, “Tank the Tank” was an effective t-shirt to bring to the meeting where the issue could be resolved. “Get Rid of the Armored Truck” would have sucked as a t-shirt slogan, and “F— the Truck” may have got me thrown out of the meeting.

    1. DavisBurns

      Since they are both armored vehicles, they both have turrets the only difference is one has wheels and one has a continuous track (which has wheels inside it). I think the non tank folks are being hypersensitive. Can we give it a rest?

  5. DavisBurns

    Two other communities have managed to misplace humvees, m-14 and M-16 rifles and assorted handguns from this program. If we just lose it, the Feds will suspend us from the 1033 program then we don’t have to return it and we can’t get more from them.

  6. Tia Will

    BP

    “Since we already have possesion of the vehicle maybe it should be up to those who feel it’s unsafe to come up with the facts.”

    So let’s suppose that your spouse chooses without consulting you first, to go out and spend your mutual held $6,000 dollars on an item you would never choose because he / she “feels safer” with it around. Now, just because “we already have possession of it” it is up to you to “prove” why you shouldn’t have it ?

    OK, I’ll bite. We shouldn’t have anything that is objected to by those paying for it and purportedly served by it unless it is proven in advance to be of value, and is a better option than other alternatives. This may or may not be the case. We don’t know because the police did not make their case prior to acquisition.

  7. tj

    Because police are just error prone human beings like everyone else, and, some want to be soldiers rather than peace keepers. Too much hardware in the wrong hands is dangerous to individuals and to democracy.

    1. Barack Palin

      So a vehicle that could possibly provide the police and its citizens some safety is considered dangerous to individuals and democracy. I’m not following you on that.

          1. Matt Williams

            BP, I’m not sure whether his post was trolling or troweling … as in laying it on so thickly that he needs a trowel.

            Knowing your posting style, I think your question was sincerely looking for an answer from tj.

          2. Barack Palin

            Thanks Matt, I didn’t consider my post as trolling either. I guess tj had no intelligent comeback and that was the best he/she could come up with.

      1. Tia Will

        BP

        I will try to help you out with my thinking, not that of tj.

        We know that police are as prone to misjudgment and error as any other human being.

        The key to your statement is “could possibly” provide the police and citizens with some safety. It “could possibly” if used inappropriately lead to an escalation of hostilities that would not otherwise have occurred in which civilians or police could be injured.

        “Could possibly” is in my opinion not a good basis for public policy any more than it would be a strong recommendation for surgery.

        1. Matt Williams

          Tia, is it the vehicle that would cause the escalation of hostilities, or is it the misjudgement of the human beings that would cause the escalation of hostilities?

          1. South of Davis

            Matt wrote:

            > Tia, is it the vehicle that would cause the escalation of
            > hostilities, or is it the misjudgement of the human beings
            > that would cause the escalation of hostilities?

            It makes sense that people in the “guns kill people” camp would also be in the “MRAPs make people hostile” camp…

  8. Tia Will

    Alan

    “Semantics are meaningless”

    While I loved the rest of your post, I have to take exception to the idea that “semantics are meaningless”. As a matter of fact, I believe that your post is proof of the falsity of this assertion.

    The words “Tank the tank” on your T-shirt got you a lot of laughter and your two minutes of public comment. The semantically different but content identical “F…. the Truck” would likely have gotten you ejected ( albeit very politely ) without your two minutes of comment. A very different outcome based solely on your semantic choice.

    1. Alan Miller

      T–

      True. That wasn’t my point, but then again those three words didn’t make my point well.

      What I meant was that whether we choose to call the MRAP a “truck” or a “tank” does not change what “IT” actually “IS”. One side calls it a “tank”, it is pointed out it really isn’t a tank, another side calls it a truck, it is pointed out it is more than just a truck, and it is what it is. We all knew a few days after the MRAP was announced what it was capable of.

      At that point, if someone, such as myself, chooses to call it a “tank” to get my point across, that is what is done for effectiveness of message. Was I aware it didn’t have a Cannon capable of blowing a hole in the side of Mrak Hall? Yes I was. [ . . . and may I point out that would have been a MRAP wrecking a Mrak]. May I, or the mayor, make that leap of still calling it a tank? Well we did. Just as the Chief of Police called it a truck, for effectiveness of message.

      At this point, arguing with each other saying “you can’t call it a tank”, “oh, yeah, well you can’t call it a truck” is at best childish.

      And that’s a MRAP.

  9. Tia Will

    Alan

    Keep calling it anything you like.
    Childish or not, it seems to be entertaining enough to keep a number of folks tuned in with you leading the entertainment value charge …..so to speak !

    1. Alan Miller

      Ug. If I have any power to lead, and I doubt most here would allow such, the thread will end here . . .

      . . . now everybody look. Is there anything below these words?

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