Sunday Commentary: Talking About the MRAP

Bearcat still represents a more appropriate armored vehicle for Davis.
BearCat still represents a more appropriate armored vehicle for Davis.

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


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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30 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Talking About the MRAP”

  1. Tia Will


    I am in agreement. Either our police are in need of an urban designed and demonstrated necessary and effective vehicle, or they are not. Either this is the best use of funds for both community and police protection, or it is not. These are decisions for the police, CC, and citizens to research, present, debate and decide upon.

    In my view, the decision should never have been, or be, how can we provide all the protection that we need on the cheap with a poorly designed for urban use vehicle regardless of who has ownership or where it is housed. If I were presented with such an ill equipped for the job at hand piece of surgical equipment, I would send it back to the manufacturer, not hand it to the surgeon in the next OR.

  2. LadyNewkBahm

    the fundamental problem with this article, is the second guessing of police tactics by people who ultimatley don’t share the danger – sitting snug behind computer screens, the comfort of cushy offices, and the santuary of the dais.

    1. Barack Palin

      LNB, exactly, the Monday morning quarterbacking saying that the police didn’t really need the MRAP after they had the hindsight of seeing they weren’t really in danger.

      It looks like the usual crowd is now kowtowing to maybe we should get an MRAP but one that doesn’t have the military association with it.  We had a “free” one and gave it away, now we’re going in the direction of buying one for $300,000 which will basically perform the same functions.  If the MRAP is good enough for Woodland why isn’t it good enough for Davis?

  3. hpierce

    I’ll parallel David.

    First our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of both young people who have tragically passed.  Once I saw the names and affiliations in the paper today, we realized we’ve known both parents of the young man, and his grandparents befriended us when we were in college 40 years ago.  Given what we know, this situation is truly inexplicable.

    Second, the Emptyprize gave a big clue as to why the West Sac MRAP came to town… the SWAT team was activated… made up of police personnel from both Davis, and West Sac.  If West Sac officers were indeed involved, why would we NOT honor them and their employer’s community choice to provide them protection, as THEY see fit?  If we really want to declare Davis an MRAP-free zone, perhaps we should let West Sac officers off the hook from responding to Davis’ SWAT needs, when they come up?  

    If you TRULY want to make sure we don’t “militarize” the Davis PD, get rid of the SWAT team, the “armory” at PD, and forbid the carrying of weapons by PD.

    Not sure why, given we had the West Sac MRAP, which I now think I understand better, on the scene, why we need the Woodland MRAP… perhaps, “in for a penny, in for a pound”?

    1. Don Shor

      The MRAP seems like a tool that is available regionally, for infrequent use. If Woodland and West Sac both have one, and they appear to be readily available on call, it hardly seems necessary for Davis to have one.

      1. hpierce

        Agreed, I’m not convinced Davis needs to own an MRAP.  But David and other posters’ comments seem to have a focus on the ‘hypocrisy’ of “banning” our possession of an MRAP, yet utilizing one (two, in this case).  But unless we ban the use of an MRAP in Davis, it would be truly hypocritical not to contribute financially to the maintenance/operation of those vehicles belonging to Woodland and/or West Sac.

        1. Don Shor

          Well, others could speak to this with more expertise, but I assume that agencies share resources and personnel regularly and don’t specifically share the costs of those exchanges. I recall that for many years Davis PD had a bomb disposal expert who trained other departments, and probably got called to other sites, but I don’t think his costs were invoiced.
          If the MRAP cost for deployment is unusually high, it might be in order to share the costs. But the low cost of the equipment and the supposedly negligible maintenance costs have been touted a number of times on behalf of the MRAP. So I think they become a regional resource, called in as needed, and the cost is probably not a factor in that decision.

      2. zaqzaq

        What is the response time to request the MRAP from WSPD and the time it will arrive on scene opposed to the response time if it was sitting in DPd’s parking lot?  In most situations you will not need it fast.  If time is off the essence to save a life citizens in Davis are not well served.

          1. Don Shor

            How long would it have taken to get it there from a Davis site? Woodland is only about 10 – 15 minutes up the road. Do we need one in South Davis and one in West Davis as well to make up for the cross-town response time problem?

        1. Michelle Millet

          My guess is that there is an increase in response time whenever one police department is requesting to use another police departments equipment. Maybe some one who knows more about how this works can provide more then a guess…..

  4. PhilColeman

    I’ll continue refraining on the judgment and wisdom of “should they or should they not” regarding the MRAP issue. Others have commented from the tactical, strategic, and public policy point of view. All well and good, particularly the public policy angle. If we are the “public” we have license to advocate policy, even if we have little or no experience or expertise in the matter at hand.

    Speaking from a hypothetical perspective only, I’ve had numerous experiences in the past with what is commonly described in police argot as a “barricaded suspect” scenario. My experience encompasses active participation, tactical on-scene decision from a field command post, and, yes, public policy formulation and recommendation. In Oakland, such instances were/are not quite routine in frequency, but close.

    Again, hypothetically speaking, if a shooting circumstance is reliably reported, the first responders are primarily responsible for the safety of others, even if they are imperiled while doing so. A good example, an officer comes on scene, hears screams for help and/or gunshots, there is no other option recognized or accepted. The officer goes “in harms way,” in or through the door, weapon in hand. Assuming there is time to do so, the officer notices dispatch of this fact, so support officers enroute know the circumstance.

    Absent, the “immediate peril” of a possible victim, the first responder actions are more deliberate and cautious. Waiting for back-up and the arrival of the field supervisor, talking to near-by witnesses, asking dispatch for prior call history at this address, so forth and so on.

    From published reports, all evidence points to the fact that any victims were already victimized, and no immediate peril could be substantiated. Officer safety then enters into the equation and calls for specialized equipment and personnel usually follows.



  5. gunrock

    Fundamentalist Religious people feel that it is ok to push their values onto the safety and well-being of others even when it has absolutely zero impact on themselves; the right to an abortion, the use of birth control and making choices about who you have sex with.

    Its odd how the Knee-Jerk Fundamentalists of Davis feel that it is ok to push their values onto others; specifically, because they feel that the presence of equipment that would protect our police force makes them uncomfortable (gay people holding hands sort of thing…) it is ok to force the offices to take unneccesary risks.

    Its just sad how some folks feel it is ok to shove their rather peculiar values into situations where they have no place.  Its must be nice to sit in council chambers and posture to the people who are safe in their homes or on their computers about how unnecesary it is to have a layer of armor between our police and a nutjob with a gun and then just pat yourself on the back when the circumstances of this instance didn’t leave any dead officers in the street.  I have to admit that a more reasonable solution is to protect our officers with a human shield using council members who voted against keeping the MRAP in town.

    The MRAP is a great tool for protecting those who protect us…

    1. Frankly

      You nailed it Gunrock.  What you are talking about is the Godless religion of liberal ideology.  Their morality is righteous and so it is fine that the everyone else faces greater harm and greater risk as a result of it.  And yes this is nothing different from the bible belt moralist that claims her righteous justification to inflict harm and risks on others because of religious belief.

      What we see know is the dancing on the sharper point of a pin… that THIS MRAP is so terribly unnecessary and bad, but THAT MRAP is acceptable and we should go spend money that we don’t have to acquire it.

      What is astounding to me is the raw displays of hypocrisy… those that claim intellectual superiority stuck in a wholly irrational and emotional tirade over symbolism.

      1. Don Shor

        What you are talking about is the Godless religion of liberal ideology. Their morality is righteous and so it is fine that the everyone else faces greater harm and greater risk as a result of it.

        I don’t understand why you are incapable of discussing things on the Vanguard without saying stuff like this? Do you believe it is productive to make these kinds of statements?

        1. Frankly

          It was a provactive statement but how else can you explain the absurdity of the situation where there is all this vocal outrage in Davis to reject the MRAP, but then this largely liberal city has to rely on the other much less liberal surrounding cities to provide one when needed.  Or the absurdity to reject a free MRAP only because it is surplus military, but then support the city spending hundreds of thousands (that we don’t have) on another vehicle with the exact same utility only because of symbolism.

          I know the people that were the most vocal to reject it and return it.  It was a highly ideologically-aligned split.  I think it warrants being called out… develop some introspection that might lead to a more rational response in the future.

          1. Don Shor

            Opposing an MRAP is not a theology. It is doubtful that opponents of the MRAP think “is fine that the everyone else faces greater harm and greater risk” because of the decision not to retain the MRAP.
            It was a police decision to request the MRAPs from neighboring cities. Opponents of Davis having an MRAP might reasonably ask if that was even necessary. Certainly this incident didn’t prove the necessity of it. You made false or unproven assertions about their beliefs, you disparaged the MRAP opponents, and you assert hypocrisy where it is not evident.
            None of that is conducive to a reasoned discussion. It is just vitriol and partisan provocation.
            I’ll leave it to those who oppose militarization of local police departments to explain why that bothers them. But I consider it unlikely that they will engage with you or others on this issue when you all keep up a steady stream of invective, accusations of hypocrisy, and shrill rhetoric.

        2. Michelle Millet

          Opponents of Davis having an MRAP might reasonably ask if that was even necessary. Certainly this incident didn’t prove the necessity of it.

          Given the facts contained in the Enterprises coverage of this story, I’d say this incident sadly provides an example of why an MRAP type vehicle is needed. Believe me when I say I take no joy from this, I’d prefer to live in a community where suicidally/homicidally people do not own assault rifles capable of piercing police body armor, but that is not the case.

          From the Enterprise:

          Pytel, the assistant police chief, said the armored vehicles were deemed necessary for multiple reasons:

          1) While the 911 caller told dispatchers he would be on scene when police arrived, “there was nobody waiting for us,” Pytel added. A trace of the number used to place the call, however, revealed the phone was still inside the house.

          2) Police  considered the possibility they were being lured into a “suicide by cop” situation

          3) By that point, police knew Hein had weapons registered to him, including a handgun he had just received the week before, Pytel said. After learning Hein may be in possession of an assault rifle, “our concern was that if he had that kind of weapon, our body armor wouldn’t stop it,

          4) The home, located on the south side of Glacier Drive, is a two-story duplex “where anybody on the upper floor would have had a clear, unobstructed view,” Pytel said. “In other words, the officers were in the direct line of fire.”

          5) Those circumstances, along with the lack of “hard cover” anywhere near the scene, prompted the deployment of the SWAT team, which is jointly operated by the Davis and West Sacramento police departments.

          If this is not a scenario in which an MRAP type vehicle is “necessary” I’m not sure what would be one.

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      Everything I’ve read is that the MRAP is an imperfect tool. When Darren Pytel gave his presentation, he acknowledged as much.

      1. zaqzaq

        The MRAP is an upgrade over W. Sac’s previous retired military vehicle and Woodland’s old armored car which was converted for SWAT use.   All Davis has is an old ambulance which offers not protection.  Interestingly the Bearcat is the vehicle of choice in Ferguson which that police department used in the recent protests/riots.  The bigger question is what are the differences between the Bearcat and MRAP in how they can be used effectively, the difference in cost to maintain and the cost to acquire.  I would still like to see where the city will find the $350,000 for the Bearcat and what uproar bringing the “Militarized Ferguson Police vehicle to town would create.  I suspect that most of the people opposed to the MRAP will be just as opposed the the Bearcat. Maybe they can include the Bearcat in the CFD:)

        1. DanH

          The Cannery CFD currently list $750K in funds the City can use for improvements. One of our CC members made an impassioned promise to help the DPD obtain a suitable armored vehicle. Maybe now is the time for action. 😉

  6. DanH

    The MRAP is a military personnel carrier designed in hurry to afford protection from IEDs encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan. The vehicle is heavy and may be expensive to maintain in coming years. Law enforcement agencies may like MRAP despite the limitations because it is available free as government surplus and fills minimal needs for armored protection. Some citizens fear that the MRAP will be used to gun down demonstrators and others see it as a symptom of militarization of police forces. Some object to the MRAP for purely “symbolic” reasons.

    The vehicle shown photographed in this Vanguard article is a Bearcat Tactical SUV. This is the same photograph and the same vehicle suggested by city council member Brett Lee as an alternative armored vehicle suitable for police work in Davis.

    The Bearcat Tactical SUV is not a very good choice for the Davis Police Department. This blingy armored personnel carrier is frightfully expensive and designed for use by diplomats, VIPs and Saudi princes who have money to burn. Lenco Armored Vehicles builds the Bearcat. There are many Bearcat models from which to choose and all are more affordable than the Tactical SUV which is rumored to cost $250K.

    There are other Bearcat models that are much better suited for local law enforcement purposes. Perhaps councilman Lee was not aware of this. These vehicles are in use by law enforcement agencies from city police departments in California to multi-county shared arrangements in rural Idaho.

  7. Tia Will

    Asssistant Chief Pytel had specifically mentioned one of the lesser expensive types of Bearcat as his preferred acquisition for Davis. Although because of our differing positions and life experiences, we frequently have different views on a number of subjects,  I have the utmost respect for Assisstant Chief Pytel. If he states that the MRAP is not a good fit for our community for logistical and / or other reasons, I trust his judgement. I am at a loss how some on this blog continue to dismiss the stated position of one of our very reliable policemen who does indeed put himself in harms way and I believe probably knows better than not only me, but probably everyone else posting here what the best choice would be because of their preferred ideologic stand.


    1. DanH

      I’m guessing that Assistant Chief Pytel has something like the BearCat G2 in mind. Prices start at $188K with up to $225K looking typical for a well-equipped vehicle. There has been some speculation that BearCat prices have dropped substantially from these figures during the past two years owning to free MRAPs flooding the market. Keep in mind that even the G2 is not going to look like something anyone would like to drive to soccer practice or like the armored high-roller limousine suggested by Brett Lee. Function dictates design of these purpose-built vehicles.

    2. zaqzaq

      I would rather the police had the Bearcat if that better suits their needs for public safety if it is affordable.  That is a budget allocation that has not  happened.  What I have not seen is a comparison between the Bearcat and MRAP on a cost and efficiency basis to include maintenance costs.  The only reason the Bearcat has come up is because they obtained the MRAP.  It appears from your comments that Pytel supported the acquisition of the MRAP after doing this analysis.

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