When the Davis City Council voted 3-1-1 back in late August to send the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle back, they put in language to bring the issue back after sixty days. The Davis Police Department, following the raid on Royal Oak a few weeks ago, put on a full court press arguing that the city’s police force was vulnerable on such high-risk warrants and raids, and that the city had to borrow two vehicles from adjacent cities and one of them broke down.
One thing is clear, the majority of the council, including Mayor Dan Wolk, Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis, and Councilmember Lucas Frerichs, are unlikely to change their minds. Where the process may end up going, however, is looking for a solution to the police’s concern that does not involve Davis possession of a military style armored vehicle – that could mean the acquisition of such a vehicle or, perhaps, given the infrequent need in Davis, some sort of regional approach to the issue.
This week, the Woodland Daily Democrat reports that the Woodland City Council was presented with information by Police Chief Dan Bellini. Unlike Davis, the chief provided “background for the council on the Department of Defense program that allows law enforcement to procure excess property” before the city acquired it.
“Why the leap from an outdated SWAT vehicle to an MRAP?” asked Councilman Angel Barajas (as reported by the Woodland paper). “That’s a big jump. Is there anything in between and what is the justification for why the Woodland Police Department would need an MRAP?”
The Democrat reports, “Bellini showed the council pictures of the department’s current armored vehicle, which is basically an old armored car that was donated years ago for a small fee. He said that there are two SWAT teams in the county that operate as a team. They are the Davis-West Sacramento SWAT team and a Woodland-Sheriff’s Department SWAT team. Bellini said the armored vehicle used by the Woodland SWAT team was acquired in 2006 from the Colusa County SWAT team.”
“The current armored vehicle is a brigadier armored vehicle,” he said. “It looks like an armored bank vehicle and that’s what it was. It has been outfitted with Kevlar for protection.”
The Democrat adds: “According to Bellini, the existing vehicle has several issues not the least of which is its age: 30 years. CHP inspectors have also determined that its air brakes need to be replaced and it is made to transport money not people. Bellini noted that if the vehicle were to drive into a hostile situation there is no protection for the side windows.
“Bellini said an MRAP would be able to hold 10 people, which is the same number on a SWAT team.”
“That type of vehicle is built for transporting personnel,” he said. “It is more armor protected than the current vehicle.”
If there was any doubt as to where the Mayor of Davis was headed, he laid it out in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, entitled, “Quiet town of Davis says no thanks to police tank.” I’m not sure I’m agreeable to the notion of Davis as a “quiet town,” but the mayor is pretty unequivocal on this issue.
He paints the picture of Davis as the university town where “a traffic jam usually involves too many bicycles headed toward the farmers’ market at the same time, so you can imagine the surprise when a tank rolled into town.”
Before you can say “it’s not a tank” (why do I keep harkening back to the scene from Kindergarten Cop where the former governor of California proclaimed “it’s not a tumor”?), Mayor Wolk continues, “Well, technically it is a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle — MRAP for short. But when you are talking about something that weighs 20 tons, has a turret, costs around $700,000, and looks like it belongs on the streets of Iraq or Afghanistan rather than the streets of Northern California, that would seem like a distinction without a difference.”
Exactly, Mr. Mayor.
He then cuts to the point, “If it sounds ludicrous that Davis should have an MRAP, that’s because it is.”
There you have it. He adds, “Not only are we known more for our bicycle lanes and viticulture students than our crime, we are particularly sensitive to police overreaction. As you may recall, our community made national headlines for the pepper-spraying of student protesters in 2011.”
He continues, “In Davis, without informing the council or mayor, the police acquired the MRAP under a broad grant of authority from a prior city council. The prior council had probably assumed that the police might need some extra bulletproof jackets from time to time — but certainly not a tank-like vehicle designed specifically for the war in Iraq.”
This is actually a critical point where I think Chief Landy Black and the police really fumbled the ball. And it’s where Woodland is being wise. Had Chief Black gone to the council, expressing the need for an armored vehicle and laying out the reasons why, I think the council would have figured out a way to accommodate that need.
By getting a military vehicle, unfortunately for them during a time when the militarization of the police and Ferguson, Missouri, became huge issues, it killed the early chances to lay out the need in a way that the need itself rather than the vehicle or the symbolism would become the key issue.
If the issue is officer safety on raids and high-risk warrants, then let’s solve THAT problem.
The way this was laid out instead begs the next point made by Mr. Wolk: “Not surprisingly, at our first opportunity, the current council told the police department to get rid of the armored vehicle.”
“It is my hope that our community’s response to the MRAP sends two messages to the powers that be in Washington, D.C.,” he writes. “The first is that we need to address the militarization of our local police forces in this country. The images of militarized police in Ferguson confronting protesters have justifiably shocked the nation. But Ferguson is just one of a number of communities that have received military surplus equipment.”
I think Davis did send that message. And before people say that we’re being naïve and arrogant to believe our tiny little town matters, well, we mattered enough to get the New York Times to come out here, as well as much of the national media.
Mr. Wolk adds, “Don’t get me wrong — police preparedness is absolutely important, including in Davis. But providing MRAPs to communities like ours makes absolutely no sense. I am heartened to see that President Obama and members of Congress are calling for a re-examination of the 1033 Program, and I hope they make some significant changes to it.”
He concludes, “The second message I hope our action sends is that when it comes to help from Washington, we, like most communities, have a long wish list and have been frustrated by the partisan stalemate gripping our nation’s capital. We need to reinvest in our roads and schools. We need jobs and more funding for mental health programs. We need greater investments in clean energy and water infrastructure. But military gear, especially a tank, or an MRAP, is not on that list.”
Dan Wolk makes a lot of strong points, but I think there are two clear messages he sends that are implicit. First, he is not going to back down. So any solution that comes forward has to take into account that there are three strong votes against the MRAP.
The second is, if Davis does rescind the vote, that means there will be a second story in the New York Times and it will not be a flattering one for Davis.
The message is clear to the police: you believe officer safety is important, you want a way forward, figure out an alternative to the MRAP.
—David M. Greenwald reporting