The MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle) is on its way out of town next week, announced Davis Assistant Chief Darren Pytel at a community dialogue meeting on Thursday night at the Davis Senior Center. The meeting came together as part of the motion made by Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis which directed the city to make plans on how best to dispose of the vehicle within sixty days as well as providing for community dialogue.
The meeting, facilitated by Judith MacBrine, was meant to help “develop a common understanding of community policing in Davis in light of emerging public safety challenges now being faced in the City.” It was also to “develop and practice skills necessary to engage in community dialogue rather than serial monologues.”
At one point there were 56 people in attendance, which included a number of police officers including Chief Landy Black and Assistant Chief Darren Pytel, as well as Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis and Councilmember Brett Lee.
The citizens were a mix of people who had concerns about increasing crime trends and protection for police and citizens, to those concerned about the militarization of the police. Very few of these citizens were in attendance at the August meeting, where an overwhelming number of citizens asked for the city council to return the vehicle.
After a lengthy period of introductions, the citizens broke into groups of two and create a series of cards forming their impression of the vehicle, which were then groups into common categories.
Assistant Chief Pytel then made a presentation that illustrated the police’s side of the MRAP story. Darren Pytel said that, before the acquisition of the MRAP, the Davis Police had no mobile armored protection. Access to an armored vehicle was limited, with a delayed response. The tactical team had access to an armored vehicle, but the equipment was outdated, limited and increasingly failing.
Moreover, budgetary constraints limited the ability to purchase a civilian model.
Assistant Chief Pytel explained, “The MRAP is a mine resistant armored vehicle, basically it’s ambush protection. So it’s rated to stop rifle rounds, high powered weaponry and explosives.”
For the Davis Police, if they had to use a SWAT team or do a raid, they would have armor protection. The soft-body armor that they have does not protect them from some of the rounds that they see.
The vehicle is about 20 feet long and 9 feet high and can fit a SWAT team of eight who can quickly deploy out of the rear of the vehicle. “Our plan was to do rapid exit from the vehicle when we needed to get close to a situation where we wanted to deploy our SWAT team.”
Assistant Chief Pytel gave the background on the vehicle. Lt. Glenn Glasgow came to him a few years ago and said that the military is giving away these vehicles, and at the time they were looking to replace the Peacekeeper that is owned by West Sacramento and shared by the mutual SWAT teams.
According to Lt. Glasgow, the SWAT team is averaging about eight deployments per year, for just the Davis-West Sacramento team.
The Peacekeeper was increasingly problematic in terms of mechanical problems and not being rated to take some of the weaponry now seen in Davis and Yolo County. “It just really didn’t suit some of the needs that we had,” Assistant Chief Pytel said.
Darren Pytel told the audience that he didn’t think the MRAP would fly in Davis, but after talking with his team, he became convinced it was necessary.
He said, why now? It has actually been in the works for a very long time, but the federal government works very slowly. In May of 2012 they started the process to get the vehicle.
After almost two years, the city finally got the MRAP through the federal 1033 Program in June, and it arrived in Davis in August. “Right after we got it, Ferguson happened,” he said.
The Davis Police have to operate under the same budget constraints as the rest of the city. He said he has been in management for 14 years, and “of the 14 years, there has been one year where we have not been asked to do a budget reduction list. 13 of the 14 years, our job has not been to grow the police department, it’s been to how do we do more with less and shrink the police department.”
He noted that we have fewer officers now than we did a few years ago. He said “we actually have decent tools and equipment” but described that they end up “scrounging and scraping to come up with what it is that they need.”
Assistant Chief Pytel said that the MRAP “really is a defensive type of vehicle. It has armor protection so you can move officers into an environment where firearms are present, and you don’t have to worry about getting hit. The MRAP will actually take care of all the rifles we encounter.”
He explained that the range of rifles are long and you cannot get in close to negotiation. “It actually does give us the ability to get in close. “
Assistant Chief Pytel explained that this vehicle, while it can be used as a rapid response vehicle, is not primarily a rapid response vehicle. “But generally you’re using it with a SWAT team as part of a planned deployment,” he said. “When we do that the team usually knows what’s going to happen sometimes a day before, two days before.”
He said, “It seems like two hours is pretty quick. But being the incident commander for a lot of incidents where you’re waiting two hours for SWAT team to arrive is forever because generally you’re holding the situation stable in Davis with five or six officers.”
He added, “So basically you’re taking care of a situation until the people with the better tools, better training, and the armor show up.”
The current armored vehicle has seen in 2009: eight activations, three deployments; 2010: 14 and 11; 2011: seven and five; 2012 eight and seven; 2013: six and five; and this year five activations and five deployments.
Assistant Chief Pytel argued that the dynamics of policing has changed with AB 109 and will do so even more with Prop. 47. Since 2010, felony arrests are up 105 percent. Drug related arrests are up 163 percent since 2010. Robberies are up 27 percent since 2010.
“So we’re dealing with more and more crime,” he said. “Keep reading the news and I think you will be seeing and reading a lot more about that in the coming years.”
He argued that, while there are positive areas of AB 109 and Prop. 47, “realize it’s going to take years to actually change the system to reduce recidivism… But we’re going to see a couple of rough years here, probably pretty soon.”
(It is important to note that crime in California overall has dropped, but it is not consistent. As the Public CEO reported yesterday, “Most of California’s counties saw lower crime rates in 2013, according to the latest data. Violent crime dropped in 41 out of the 58 counties, and property crime dropped in 37 counties.”).
Lt. Paul Doroshov spent some time illustrating guns that they find in Davis.
Finally, Assistant Chief Darren Pytel talked about the evolution of police tactics. He said, “So everyone thinks we use the armored vehicle to go in and bust through people’s houses. Actually not true.”
“We’ve gone from using dynamic entries, which is showing up real quick, jumping out of the car, busting through a door,” he said. Their new tactic is surround and call out – where the team is ready to go, surrounds the location, has a negotiator there and tells the party to come out.
He explained that they actually have a robot now. “We’re able to send in a robot to help us reach a door. The robot has a video camera on it and communication equipment so it can sit there and negotiate with the robot and never expose a person (to danger). “
They also can clear a room using the robot but the person operating the robot must be very close and likely sit in armor protection while this goes on.
No decisions were made on Thursday evening. It was an opportunity for the police to express why they felt such a vehicle was needed, and was therefore one-sided by design.
—David M. Greenwald reporting