by Michelle Millet
Twenty years ago I completed an Emergency Medical Technician training course. While most of what I learned is a little fuzzy, there is one piece of life saving formation that I will never forget. This information was so vital that it was as drilled into us over and over again and was guaranteed to be on every examine, both written or practical. It was this: Never, under any circumstances, were we to put our own safety at risk by entering a “scene” that was not safe, even if it meant leaving a victim untreated.
It is through this lens that I view the controversy regarding the Davis Police forces acquisition, and subsequent 3-1-1 council decision to return, the “MRAP,” a small armored vehicle worth about $700,00, that had been used by the military and was obtained by the police force, for free, through a program that “converts and re-purposes surplus federal and military equipment that is suitable for use by local police departments. The program is administered here in California by the Office of Emergency Services (OES).”
On Sept 10 the Sacramento Bee published an opinion piece entitled, “A healthy re-evaluation of the militarization of local police.”
The article mentions that on August 26 the Davis City Council voted to instruct our police department to come back to council in 4 weeks with a plan to return the MRAP. (The vote was 3-1-1 with Councilmember Brett Lee dissenting, claiming he wanted additional time to examine the pro’s and con’s of keeping the vehicle, and Councilmember Swanson abstaining).
The article states, “Residents were appalled by the idea of a war machine on the streets of peaceful Davis.”
While there are residents who are appalled by this machine I’m not one of them. I don’t view the MRAP as a war machine, nor do I view it, or any other object, as inherently evil because it was used in a war zone.
I also do not view the acquisition of this machine as a militarization of our police force.
I view the MRAP as tool that increases the safety of our police officers. While the streets of Davis are peaceful, the situations our police regularly are put into, protecting our community and keeping these streets peaceful, are not.
The protective vehicle that our police force currently has access to is barely functional and needs to be replaced, which will cost in the ballpark of $500,000. The MRAP was an opportunity to replace this vehicle, with a functional one, for free.
I realize that this vehicle reminds some of times and places where the police acted in oppressive and aggressive ways. They worry that this vehicle will be used for such purposes in our community. Ironically it is because of these vigilant, concerned, and engaged citizens that I have few worries that our police would misuse this piece of protective equipment.
Instead of viewing the MRAP as an aggressive piece of machinery, I would ask people to consider viewing it as a vehicle that protects the people who are protecting our community and the quality of life that comes along with all of our peaceful streets.