Recently in Sacramento forty police officers using three tactical vehicles, including some with armor, conducted a raid on a Sacramento home. While the case is now pending, the police ended up turning the house upside down and charged the individual with a misdemeanor Penal Code section 148(a).
A misdemeanor 148(a)(1) is “resisting arrest” by “delay” or “obstruction.” Charged as a misdemeanor, generally speaking, this is not a resisting arrest with force. Without other charges, this type of standalone charge naturally leads to questions – how does one resist an arrest when there was nothing sufficient for an arrest?
I raise this case because, throughout the MRAP issue, there has been a tendency to downplay the risk of the police possessing a military armored vehicle and the risk of militarization of police tactics.
It is of course easy and tempting to note, as Assistant Chief Darren Pytel would, that Davis police are a world apart from their Sacramento counterparts. However, it was May of 2012 when two friends arguing outside their Glacier Point Apartments residence triggered a Davis police officer, Lee Benson, to Taser a resident.
It was just last year, back in back in February of 2013, that Chief Landy Black wrote, “Based on the evidence, it became clear the conduct of the first arriving officer with whom you interacted did not meet the highest standards of conduct and service we expect from our members.”
The Vanguard would learn that the officer was terminated from the department.
The bottom line here is that, while the Davis police have greatly improved their service under Chief Landy Black, mistakes happen, even in Davis – situations get out of hand, the police act on bad information and sometimes that leads to unpleasant consequences.
But we didn’t get that kind of discussion Thursday night, and that was by design. The police felt that they had not been given a full opportunity prior to the MRAP story to lay out the need for such a vehicle.
I get their concern – I even agree with their concern. At the same time, I worry about one-sided discussions in the public arena. There were 56 people in attendance at one count on Thursday. Most of those people were not in attendance back in August, at the city council meeting.
And this was a very different group. It was largely a group who were over 60. There was a mix of people who were relative newcomers to Davis and some who had been in town 40 to 50 years. The group that came to council was younger and more ethnically diverse.
When they went around the room in introduction, there was a mix between people who were concerned about militarization and people there concerned about crime and protecting the police. I would say the group leaned toward the latter, albeit slightly, but by the end of the discussion most people were saying that they now agreed with keeping the MRAP, based on the confiscated guns.
The problem here is that we had a movement of public opinion because, in part, there was no counterbalance to the police position. There was no police auditor to give another side of the story. We didn’t get the ACLU’s police practices expert to counter the police claims. We didn’t have Radley Balko come to talk about the dangers of police militarization.
As such, I think the police – understandably – overstate the risks that would require an armored vehicle. We are talking about 11 times in the last five years that the city of Davis used an armored vehicle – why does that require the city itself to have one?
They underplayed the cost as to how much it will take to maintain the vehicle – as Robb Davis pointed out a few weeks ago, these are specialty vehicles with very unique parts.
They underplayed how poorly adapted it was.
“Fundamentally I don’t think the vehicle, the MRAP, is adapted to our situation,” Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis said in October. “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.”
Unfortunately, people were changing their opinions based on one-sided information on Thursday night.
A few weeks ago, I met with Assistant Chief Darren Pytel. He explained to me the shift in police tactics and the use of the robot.
On Thursday he told the group, 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 [the subject can] 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 sitting in armored protection while this goes on.
But that doesn’t mean there cannot be abuses. From what was described to me in Sacramento, for instance, they actually did a call out, then they raided the place and basically found nothing. They may well have arrested the individual for refusing to come out immediately when they arrived on a search, rather than arresting on an arrest warrant. Obviously, the courts will sort that situation out.
Mistakes can happen anywhere, and the police are downplaying the potential that the MRAP could be used inappropriately, as it has been in many other locations. For example, in Racine, Wisconsin, the police deployed their armored vehicle over a dog poop dispute and the SWAT team ended up executing the dog.
An article in Salon noted that Stettin, “a town of less than 3,000 in Marathon County, Wisconsin, sent armored vehicles and 24 armed officers to collect an $86,000 debt from 75-year-old Roger Hoeppner earlier this month, action that raises anew the issue of police militarization.”
But this can’t happen in Davis, right?
Then you have the assistant chief arguing 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.”
But a broader look at the crime statistics at least calls into question whether AB 109 is the root cause if it.
It is important to note that crime in California overall has dropped, but it is not consistent. As the PublicCEO website reported this week, “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.”
So is AB 109 causing crime to go up in Davis, but down elsewhere, or is there a more localized factor at work? We do not have the kind of longitudinal data we need to be drawing these kinds of conclusions, and yet there we have the assistant chief doing exactly that in a forum where he was not countered.
Darren Pytel is a very good assistant chief and likely will be the next chief when Landy Black decides to retire or move. This isn’t about attacking him. The people at this forum simply needed to have an alternative perspective that could speak from an equal position of authority.
So, as usual, we will be looking to do that sometime early in 2015.
—David M. Greenwald reporting