The city of Davis will be returning the MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle), as the council reaffirmed its August vote by a 3-2 margin, with Councilmembers Brett Lee and Rochelle Swanson dissenting. While the council narrowly rejected both a friendly amendment and a substitute motion to appropriate $300,000 for a BearCat or a similarly situated civilian armored vehicle, there seemed a general consensus to explore those options.
Councilmember Brett Lee attempted to separate the issues. “I’m not in favor of the militarization of the police,” he said. “Then there’s the question of, do the police have a legitimate need for a protective vehicle?” He would answer that question, “Based on my due diligence over the past few weeks, I personally believe that they do need a protective vehicle.”
He stated that, given the reality that he is not in favor of the militarization of the police but believes we need a protective vehicle, “We are confronted by budget realities.” All things being equal, he said, “I would choose the civilian version because it’s clearly more appropriate.
“But that’s not the choice,” he said. “The choice is the free item which has the negative aspects that it’s a former military vehicle and not designed for civilian use. The flip side is do we spend money for what would probably be the more appropriate vehicle for the community?”
Brett Lee then showed the council an alternative vehicle that would be more appropriate for civilian use.
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis told Councilmember Lee that he was willing to put resources into a vehicle that provides protection to the police, however he would argue that the MRAP is really not an appropriate vehicle for our community.
“I would be very willing to put resources into a vehicle that provided protection,” he said. “It’s not just that symbols matter, which they do. I tried to speak to that. Some people agreed with that perspective, some people didn’t.
“Fundamentally I don’t think the vehicle, the MRAP, is adapted to our situation,” he continued. “It does one thing well, it protects people inside.” Citing military literature, he argued, “There’s a lot of disagreement about the value of this vehicle.
“One of the reasons we’re seeing them show up in our communities is because they haven’t worked very well except for one thing – as you’re going down a road, a pretty straight road, a flat road, if a bomb goes off, it will protect everybody inside. That we know. Everyone agrees with that,” the Mayor Pro Tem explained. “Where the disagreement comes in is what happens if you have to wheel it into a tight spot.” He said up hills, uneven terrain, even up driveways are problematic for the vehicle.
“What happens in an urban environment?” he continued. “The consensus there is that it’s not very well adapted.” He called it “a product of really a broken military system. There were five companies that made these.” He said when they “got into theater they couldn’t even find the parts to repair these because they’re specialized parts.”
The mayor pro tem said that we have been told it’s just a truck and the cost to repair it is minimal, but “the reality is that the experience in military situations around the world is that it’s been a complete headache.”
Robb Davis said, “If I were to make a prediction today… I would say in about five years there’s going to be a lot of jurisdictions that are looking to get rid of these things. They just aren’t adapted to the situation.
“I believe very personally that we need to create a very clear line of separation between military and police,” he stated. He reiterated his trust and appreciation for the local police, but added, “I said it will hurt [that trust], it will, if we bring military equipment in.” He emphasized that he was more worried about the decisions by civilian leaders than by the police in situations such as what arose in Ferguson or at UC Davis on the Quad.
“Given all of that,” he said “I have moved in the last six weeks. I’ve moved to an understanding that the situation in our city has changed over the past ten years… That it is more dangerous, that there are more weapons. That there are more people with mental health problems with access to those weapons.
“One of the things that should disturb all of us is that one of the groups that you [Chief Landy Black] are concerned about are people that are tactically trained, who know how to use high powered weapons and the tactics to counter your tactics, and have PTSD,” he said. “Who are those people? They’re former military. I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m a little bit offended that the US Military would send us a $600,000 piece of equipment… but not give us the wherewithal to treat in our own communities the root cause of violence. I think it’s something we need to look [at] in our hearts and ask if that’s the direction we want our country to go.”
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis moved the item, and Lucas Frerichs seconded it. Councilmember Rochelle Swanson said that she could not support it without an amendment.
“I personally would like to see a motion to move forward where we get a BearCat, where we get something that is more appropriate,” she said. “I think that we have an obligation to make sure that everybody goes home safe at the end of their shift. I agree, that the militarization of the police, I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. But I also don’t like that we have a vehicle that currently is in disrepair and can’t run.”
She added, “I can’t support the motion that is here unless there is some sort of amendment added to it.”
Brett Lee offered a friendly amendment “which would set aside $300,000 from this current year’s budget in anticipation of a vehicle such as this.” He explained that he was not comfortable sending the MRAP back unless there was something to replace it with and this would “actually set money aside so we’re confident that we’re actually serious about having a protective vehicle for our community.”
However, neither Robb Davis nor Lucas Frerichs were agreeable to the friendly amendment. Robb Davis was concerned about the expenditure of money on this year’s budget.
Lucas Frerichs was appreciative of the alternative vehicle and thinks the look is more acceptable to community values. He suggested that, since the council just hired a new city manager, “I would also like to see input from our new city manager as well in this process.” He said, “The process that we’ve laid out needs to move forward before we can accurately identify the dollar amount, either in this year’s budget or next year’s budget.”
At that point, Rochelle Swanson made a substitute motion seconded by Brett Lee that would authorize up to $300,000 for the purpose of a BearCat.
Interim City Manager Gene Rogers pointed out that the next meeting will have a close out on the budget for this fiscal year and an update on the picture for the next fiscal year. He argued that this should have some attachment to the budget process itself for making such an allocation. “It would at least be prudent to wait for that period of time to pass and take into consideration the totality of your financial situation in the budget.
“One question you would want to ask the police is what are your needs, whether it’s personnel or equipment and how would you prioritize it?” he pointed out. “I think you should be maybe be a little bit patient in terms of making an allocation tonight without having at least the grounding of the fiscal implications of doing that with respect to the budget.”
Mayor Dan Wolk would add, “I see [this] as discussion, as part of our budget process.” He added that we need to consider the extent for this vehicle and how that need compares to the other needs of the police department. Ultimately, he agreed with Mr. Rogers, in that he favored it being part of the budget discussion.
The question that arose is how the council would pay for this kind of allocation. Brett Lee pointed out that next year the city would consider a request for a $500,000 new fire engine.
The substitute motion would fail 3-2.
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson asked that the questions be bifurcated so that the process portion of the motion could be approved with her support, and she would vote against the way in which the vehicle would be returned without assurance of the allocation for a new vehicle.
The motion passed 3-2 and the MRAP will be returned.
—David M. Greenwald reporting