Greetings from Florida where it’s neither sunny nor warm. In fact, it’s colder here than there. While I understand that there are some who believe that this isn’t the time to have a public policy discussion – the Vanguard is primarily about public policy.
So let me pause for a moment and offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Whitney Engler. Hopefully the police and investigators will be able to find some answers – which will of course be very small comfort to those who mourn her loss.
Now back to a discussion of the public policy. Back in December we wrote a column, “Sending Away MRAP Doesn’t Mean We Can Borrow It.” As we argued then, the objection to the MRAP was not based on it merely being located within the city limits. Certainly part of our concern was the need for the city of Davis to have its own vehicle – when the need, that has arisen, has been less than a handful of times per month.
But there have been broader concerns raised in the community about the militarization of police, as well as the adaptability of the MRAP to the urban environment. Neither of these concerns change with the relocation of the vehicle from Davis to Woodland.
There are, of course, those on both sides of this issue. The police, of course, had reasons for using the MRAP. They used it because they had information of high powered weaponry that they believed was located at the scene and associated with the person who called in. They believed that those weapons were capable of penetrating all body armor and the Peacekeeper.
They believed that the only way to get the robot controllers in close and the team in a position to try and communicate in a safe manner was with heavier armor. They also believed they needed protection to gas and then wait for a reaction and then deploy
They believed that the primary concern was we were dealing with a murder and then possibly a suicide by cop situation and they wanted to ensure the safety of officers.
If I had been in Davis during all of this, perhaps I would have asked the police how they would have handled this situation prior to August 2014. Somehow it is hard for me to believe that they would have handled the situation that much differently.
With or without the MRAP, the result here would have been pretty much the same. You have a murder-suicide. The police were never in actual danger. I understand that they didn’t know this at the time, but this situation does not provide the rationale to reconsider the community’s need for MRAP.
However, for me, it does suggest that the council did not do nearly enough to respect the desire of the community. As one reader suggested it is more than a little hypocritical for us to say that the MRAP does not fit our community values and then come back in the first crisis and say – let us go get the one from West Sacramento AND the one from Woodland and use them.
As we noted last fall, we can use a regional approach to police armored vehicles, but these situations do not arise very frequently. At a regional level, the availability of one or two armored vehicles is useful. However, the Vanguard called for the acquisition of a non-military vehicle. Bringing in a military vehicle from Woodland or West Sacramento would run counter to the views expressed by the public in August and by the city council twice.
And yet that is exactly what happened.
In October, 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 argued 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, on 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.”
Do those concerns change if the vehicle is housed in Woodland? No.
“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.”
So once again, we call on the city council to take a more definitive step here. If we are concerned about the safety of the police – and I agree we should be – then we ought to use money that some might think we have available for other purposes to purchase an appropriate armored vehicle.
That way, the next time this crisis arises, we can focus on the crisis itself rather than the use of a police military vehicle.
—David M. Greenwald reporting