Commentary: No, This Wasn’t a Job for an MRAP

At 11 am on Thursday morning, North Davis Elementary School received a phoned-in bomb threat, described by officials as a “robo-call.”  Naturally, school officials rightly took the threat seriously and activated the school’s emergency evacuation.

According to the police, the threat also advised that authorities had 30 minutes to evacuate the campus. The school was immediately evacuated and occupants were moved to a safe location at the Davis Arts Center.

Nearby Davis High School and St. James Elementary School were also placed on lockdown.  Maria Clayton, the Public Information Officer (PIO) of DJUSD, wrote, “Davis Police and Fire responded to scene immediately and students were evacuated from campus.  Police conducted a sweep of the campus and cleared students to return to their classrooms at approximately 1:45 pm.  Morning kindergarten students were released from the evacuation site around their regular dismissal time.”

Davis Police Department, in conjunction with the Yolo County Bomb Squad, swept for explosives or other devices.  Ultimately, the school was thoroughly searched and it was determined to be safe and officials re-opened campus.

Naturally, when threats of this sort come in, the school officials have to take them seriously, but given the amount of personnel from local and county emergency services involved and the disruption to the school day – even a fake bomb threat is completely disruptive to many in this community.

Police officials said that the motive for the threat is unknown and they are hopeful an investigation may determine the perpetrator.

No sooner did the evacuation occur, than we received a number of people saying – see, we do need an MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle). From our perspective, while officials have to take such threats seriously, the chance of actually having a bomb on campus or other explosives is remote.

Nevertheless, let us explore the issue. On the one hand, the chief advantage of the MRAP over probably any of the alternative vehicles is that it is specifically designed to withstand high explosives.  The problem with using the MRAP in a situation such as this is the problem that the MRAP has suffered all along.

“Fundamentally I don’t think the vehicle, the MRAP, is adapted to our situation,” Mayor Pro Tem Robb explained in October. “It does one thing well, it protects people inside.

“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.”

“What happens in an urban environment?” he continued. “The consensus there is that it’s not very well adapted.”

Robb Davis was, of course, just describing the difficulty of maneuvering the vehicle on city streets, let alone somehow getting it onto a school campus.

As Assistant Chief Pytel explained in November, 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. “

For those types of situations, we can see the value of having an MRAP.  But in trying to find a bomb or explosive device on campus that might be in an indoor classroom, there are likely better tools available.

For example, Assistant Chief Pytel talked about the robot that the police now have that is equipped with a video camera on it.  They might be able to send such a robot to inspect for explosives – but at the end of the day, you have your bomb squad, trained on the ground with dogs to hopefully sniff out explosives, and you have to hope for the best.

In the end on Thursday, we were fortunate.  The bomb threat was a fake.  The incident, while disruptive, was a waste of time for police, fire, bomb squad, teachers, students, parents, district officials and, ultimately, community members.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of it is that, while you knew at the time it was most likely a fake, you also know that you have to take such things seriously.  As my wife put it to me, I may well have responded differently had this been my own children at the school, but I think probably not.

It is unfortunate but it is the world we live in.  And it’s not necessarily new.  When I was in undergraduate school more than 20 years ago at Cal Poly, we frequently had bomb threats called when students wanted to avoid exams or term papers being due.

Those were the days before Columbine and 9/11, but the officials still took the threats seriously.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Tia Will

    No sooner did the evacuation occur, but we received a number of people saying – see we do need an MRAP.  “

    It is disappointing, but not surprising that you received this comment. To me, this is a classic fear based comment without any consideration having been given to the actual risk or to the actual utility of an MRAP in this situation.

    The medical analogy would be “there have been 26 infant deaths from influenza so far this year” so see, each hospital does need its own dedicated Ebola team. To effectively deal with threats whether in the realm of the police, or in the medical realm, it is first critical to assess the actual risk, to choose the appropriate individuals and equipment to deal with the specific threat, and to implement the most effective, safest, and least disruptive strategy to deal with that specific threat. What is not helpful is to use a specific threat as an argument to uses resources or equipment in a less than optimal manner.

    1. South of Davis

      When I was in High School we had a kid who was not prepared to take a big test call in a bomb threat (from the pay phone on campus just before the test)…

    1. Miwok

      Tia, with respect, I find it hard to follow your remarks to comments. I am sure you have noticed your reply to a comment shows up way down the list.

      If you were to click the “reply” directly under that comment, then copy the quote, which you seem to do very nicely, Then click that little ” (double quote) button, then PASTE. Then hit the return button, click the Double Quotes again, the cursor moves back to the left, and write your comment. That is what makes the bluish block of color to encapsulate the quote.

      Sorry, I find it hard and have to scroll way up to find things you ( and others) have commented on, and each indent by a comment eventually runs out of “reply” buttons. In those cases, go up to the nearest “Reply” above that and your comment will fill in the next lower comment in order.

      The Double Quote (“) will still work as above. I hope this helps a very good idea from getting lost. You have quite a few, whether I agree or not with them.

  2. Michelle Millet

    I’m unsure of what useful function an MRAP, or any armored vehicle,  could have served in yesterday’s situation.

    My kids don’t go to North Davis so I had the luxury of not having to fear for their safety, but my first thought was, I hope the kids at  were not traumatized by the evacuation.  From what I hear the kids handled it much better then the parents:-). I credit the teachers and staff  for helping  the kids feel safe and secure even in a scary situation.

    1. Biddlin

      I wonder when kids’ constitutions became so weak, that they require professional counseling for every negative event. That would seem  to prepare them for an adulthood full of therapists and risk averse behaviours. When I was in elementary school, we had classmates die in accidents, a polio epidemic and the threat of imminent destruction or subjugation by our Godless foes. Don’t remember anyone ever askin’ “Oh Jackie, do ya need any counselin’, lad?”

      So far I haven’t succumbed to melancholy or PTSD.


        1. Miwok

          I liked them because even the administration did not know, a true test.

          We likened it to fire drills, and way back, hiding under our desks for “nuclear blasts” – which was more useful in tornadoes, especially after I found out I would be hiding under a 10,000 degree blast.

          MM – kids are weak because their parents are weak. One of the favorite words in life is “resiliency”. They want respect but do not know how to earn it.

        2. Michelle Millet

          MM – kids are weak because their parents are weak. One of the favorite words in life is “resiliency”. They want respect but do not know how to earn it.

          I see a big difference between building resiliency and scaring kids for no reason. There are plenty of real life scenarios in which kids can be taught resilience, we don’t need to unnecessarily freak them out during bomb threats to do that.

      1. Michelle Millet

        Biddlin-I prefer that kids not have to worry about a bomb going off in their school, or a gunman attacking them in their classrooms. I see no value in them fearing something that will most l ikely never happen. So when we have bomb scares and lockdowns I appreciate when the adults on campus keep the kids feeling safe as well as keeping them physically safe.

    2. Alan Miller

      MM, knowing you supported the MRAP, I appreciate that you say this.  Too often people take a stand not on the facts of a situation, but jump straight to any argument that “supports” their political stand or agenda, even if in their doing so it is so preposterous an argument that it undermines their stance.  This shows you are a genuine and consider issues on their merit.

      To those that picture police searching for a bomb in narrow school corridors in total safety by peering out the window of the MRAP:  you are morons.

      1. Michelle Millet

        This shows you are a genuine and consider issues on their merit.

        Thanks Alan, I’m going to tell my husband you said that, (I’m trying to convince him of that), and I may quote you on that one day.

    1. Miwok

      Cannot remember all the comments on the MRAP, but someone mentioned the MRAP could be a repository for the bomb squad to use? What do they have now? Mostly when explosives are found, I see them blow them up with a bomb “in place”.

      1. hpierce

        Think they mean a ‘repository’ for the bomb squad to approach the suspected bomb.  Usually, robots are used to deal with bombs (until we have a PETR group formed).

  3. Biddlin

    Very few kids get killed in school shootings, Michele. The chances of a shooting incident at a K-12 in the US in any given year is about 1:54000. Worry about automobiles. They kill and maim many more kids. Right, Tia?



    1. Michelle Millet

      Biddlin- I think you missed my point. I’m NOT worried about school shootings, and I don’t want my kids or other kids to be either. I thought this line from my post made that clear.

      “I see no value in them fearing something that will most l ikely never happen.”

      Which is why I’m grateful to teachers and staff for creating a sense of safety and security during drills or threats.

  4. Tia Will


    “On average in 2012, 92 people were killed on the roadways of the U.S. each day in 30,800 fatal crashes”

    A quick look at Wikipedia would seem to support your assertion. Although the rate of automobile related deaths and injuries has been dropping ( probably due to those pesky nanny state regulations imposed on car manufacturers) we continue to accept this as the cost of living in our society. Kind of a “collateral damage” mind set ?

    And no, we are not just talking about the voluntary risks taken by those who choose to drive or ride in cars.

    4,280 pedestrians died in traffic crashes in 2010, a 4% increase from the number reported in 2009.”

    In 2011, an estimated 69,000 pedestrians were injured, 11,000 of those injured were age 14 and younger, and males accounted for 65% (7,000) of those 11,000 injured.”

    If we were truly interested in reduction of childhood injuries based on relative risk assessment, transportation safety is where we would focus our attention. However, again, I believe that safety measures can move forward on multiple fronts at the same time.


  5. zaqzaq

    If DPD needed an MRAP they would have brought in an MRAP.  In the future expect to see an MRAP driving down Davis streets when DPD needs it.  I do not know if it was moved into position for this incident.  The only issue is whether a delay in getting the MRAP to the scene if needed results in death or serious injury.  If this does occur then Rob, Dan and his sidekick will have to bear responsibility for this based on their rejection of the MRAP obtained by DPD.

    I tire if constantly reading Rob Davis’s flawed position concerning the viability of the MRAP as a law enforcement tool based on how it was used in Iraq.  The model obtained by DPD was one of the smaller and more maneuverable models.  Instead of focusing on how they were used in Iraq the better analysis would be a comparison between the MRAP model obtained by DPD and the Bearcat that was proposed as the alternate vehicle at a much greater cost.  Is there a significant difference?  What are the pros and cons for each vehicle?  What was the DPD analysis on those issues?  It would also have been nice to have someone who made decisions on the use of the MRAPs in Iraq enter the discussion.  What this comes down to is that Rob’s analysis is a red herring.  The real reason for his vote was the complaints of a vocal minority who did not like the idea of the MRAP in this city.  I suspect that these individuals would not recognize a Peacekeeper if their lives depended on it and would object if DPD had acquired a Peacekeeper or Bearcat.

  6. Dave Hart

    Zaqzaq, you can be of assistance here by providing a clear definition and identifying characteristics of this group of residents that require military grade hardware to contain.   Once we know who the enemy is, it shouldn’t be that hard to get the City Council to declare war on these people.  Then the only question will be the best mix of military hardware appropriate to purchase and deploy.

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