Analysis: Davis Only Deployed SWAT Four Times in 2014, What Does That Mean?


swat-dyanmic-entryIn his 2013 book, Rise of the Warrior Cop, journalist Radley Balko is able to trace the start of the use of tactical teams that became known as SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams to the 1965 Watts Riots, where a young Darryl Gates, seeing his police officers out-gunned and out-maneuvered, decided to create a small, elite tactical team to handle dangerous situations.

From these humble and limited beginnings, by the 1980s and the war on drugs, SWAT teams had proliferated throughout the country, even to locations that were very small in population and rarely had murders.

Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies, in a 2014 Atlantic article, told the publication that he estimated that SWAT teams were deployed about 3,000 times in 1980 but are now used around 50,000 times a year.

Professor Kraska believes that 89 percent of police departments serving American cities with more than 50,000 people had SWAT teams in the late 1990s—almost double the level from the mid-1980s. “By 2007 more than 80% of police departments in cities with between 25,000 and 50,000 people had them, up from 20% in the mid-1980s (there are around 18,000 state and local police agencies in America, compared with fewer than 100 in Britain).”

It is one thing to have these tactical teams, however, Mr. Balko’s book demonstrated that once police forces had SWAT teams, they used SWAT teams—even when they really did not need those SWAT teams—to serve warrants to individuals who did not pose a particularly high risk. Moreover, these raids often made mistakes—acting on bad tips or, worse yet, going to the wrong address.

For instance, in 2008, Prince George Mayor Cheye Calvo had his home raided in what he describes in a 2009 Washington Post article.

He said the “errant Prince George’s County SWAT team had just forced its way into our home, shot dead our two black Labradors, Payton and Chase, and started ransacking our belongings as part of what would become a four-hour ordeal.”

Ultimately, “The police found nothing, of course, to connect my family and me to a box of drugs that they had been tracking and had delivered to our front door. The community — of which I am mayor — rallied to our side. A FedEx driver and accomplice were arrested in a drug trafficking scheme. Ultimately, we were cleared of any wrongdoing, but not before the incident drew international outrage.”

This is the concern that many have when they think about the militarization of police—the escalation of police tactics. Even after the mistake, Prince George County officials declined to acknowledge wrongdoing. The sheriff said that his deputies “did what they were supposed to do.”

As Mr. Calvo put it, “What confounds me is the unmitigated refusal of county leaders to challenge law enforcement and to demand better — as if civil rights are somehow rendered secondary by the war on drugs.”

In August of last year, many residents in Davis were surprised and stunned that the police had acquired an armored military vehicle—the MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle).

The police, at the time, quickly justified it, arguing that increasingly they were encountering high-powered weapons that could pierce conventional body armor in addition to existing armored vehicles like the Peacekeeper. However, the council, sensing community opposition and probably their own trepidations, voted narrowly to return the vehicle, which has since ended up in Woodland.

In late March, a murder-suicide led police to bringing in not one but two MRAPs. Assistant Police Chief Darren Pytel explained why the two MRAPs were needed.

It was when police searched Joseph Hein’s Facebook page with a picture of a military grade rifle, and the realization that, if he possessed that weapon, it would “go through anything we got,” that prompted the Assistant Chief to summon the first MRAP.

The MRAP would house a small team of people that would be able to do a dynamic entry on short notice, should the need arise. They wanted to be able to deploy the robots – one large and one small. The large one would breach the doors while the small one had the maneuverability to make the entry, go inside and be able to assess the situation and perhaps communicate.

The second MRAP was used to house the operator of the robot, which needed a direct line in order for the remote control to work.

Assistant Chief Darren Pytel explained that the philosophy of the Davis Police Department has, in recent years, moved away from the use of dynamic entries, like the one that happened with the Prince George Mayor and the ones described in Radley Balko’s book.

Assistant Chief Pytel said that not only is this what the courts are telling police departments, but what he believes is the right decision. He believes that time is on the side of the police and the longer they can wait, the more likely they can deescalate the situation.

A dynamic entry would end the potential standoff very quickly but, at the same time, greatly increase the chance of a confrontation and therefore the opportunity that the subject could provoke a confrontation that would force the police to kill him. That is what they wanted to avoid.

Darren Pytel pushed the Davis Police principle of surround and call out, as opposed to dynamic entries. He argued that the courts are asking police to slow things down. When things go to lawsuits, experts are called in and they cite best practices.

He stressed that this is a policy he very much agrees with, even though many departments continue to use dynamic entries—with problematic results at times. He said there has been a change in thinking, away from rushing in to quickly shut down a situation. He said, “I think that’s a good thing.”

A records request bears this out. The Vanguard asked the Davis Police how many times the SWAT was deployed in 2014. The answer was four.

Three of those times were to deal with a barricaded armed subject. Once was to serve a high risk warrant—most likely the raid at Royal Oak last September.

There were no shots fired at any of the call outs. Two of the incidents resulted in an arrest for felony domestic violence, once of those included a PC section 245—an assault with a deadly weapon, and a felon in possession of a firearm. in a third one, the suspect surrendered prior to full deployment and the report was forwarded to the DA.

Finally, the raid resulted in a several arrests and, most recently, a prison sentence for the main suspect.

Thus far, the Davis City Council has not addressed the issue of whether the Davis Police should be able to bring the MRAP into the community. They have also yet to address whether Davis should incur the expense of purchasing a civilian armored vehicle.

The Davis Police ironically face a Catch-22. On the one hand, their restraint in the overwhelming use of force that has proliferated many departments across the country suggests that they may well have earned greater latitude with respect to the use of armored vehicles.

On the other hand, the fact that the SWAT team has only been deployed four times in the most recent calendar year calls into question what the police department’s needs are.

One of the concerns of the critics of police militarization is the escalation of tactics as tactical teams and military grade weapons become available. Right now, Davis appears to be an exception to that trend. However, the department does not have its own SWAT – it shares service with West Sacramento.

The question is, if Davis had more readily accessible vehicles and SWAT, would they deploy more often?

—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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16 thoughts on “Analysis: Davis Only Deployed SWAT Four Times in 2014, What Does That Mean?”

  1. zaqzaq

    I am surprised that you did not go back five years with the SWAT call out numbers.  Was 2014 consistent with previous years?  Did you only ask for last years numbers or do you have the numbers going back a number of years?

  2. PhilColeman

    “The question is – if Davis had more readily accessible vehicles and SWAT, would they deploy more often.”

    I don’t think there is any relationship at all and this issue is not an issue, despite it being raised by on this debate. How quickly a MRAT vehicle gets to a stand-off scene is a red herring.

    Let’s all analyze this time thing. Repeatedly, it has been contended the immediately availability of a MRAT vehicle in Davis would reduce the response time by a SWAT team call-out. A faster response equates to a safer circumstance for all involved, police and innocent citizens alike.

    But here is the confusion with this argument; so the SWAT team and the accompanying MRAT vehicle get to the scene faster. Faster, because the vehicle is in Davis, not in another city.

    Then what? They relieve the responding patrol officers, and sit! Darren went into detailed explanation on how dynamic entries are no longer a preferred choice, absent circumstances that require an emergency entry. Standard practice dating back decades. Instead, negotiations are initiated and the bad guy is worn down by fatigue, stress, and discomfort alone. We win, nobody hurt.

    Dispatch records will have the answer to this question, a question that nobody has apparently considered. In the recent murder/suicide case, how much time EXACTLY did it take for the two MRAT vehicles from other jurisdictions to arrive in Davis? Then ask the time-bomb question: “How much time would be saved by the presence of a MRAT in Davis, and why is it so critical when it’s a contain and hold circumstance along?

    Mobilization of a SWAT team. No law enforcement agency has an on-duty, ready to deploy, SWAT team in service at all hours of the day and night. It’s not like the US Air Force having fighter jets on the runway ready to “scramble” if our air space is violated by a foreign power.

    Instead, SWAT team members are scattered all over the place at any given time. Some are on-duty, some are off-duty. It takes quite a while contacting off-duty SWAT officers, determining they are available for response (a guy might have just finished his 3rd beer, cancel him) and waiting for them to arrive from home. David, find out exactly how long it took all the multi-agency SWAT teams took to get to Davis, get briefed, and become operational on scene. Dispatch has those records, and they are time precise to the second.

    I’ve never heard of an instance where a full crew SWAT team has been successfully deployed in less than two hours. And then when they are mobilized and all in one place, they must be briefed on the situation, and given specific assignments. Meantime, just about anybody who could drive a MRAT could go anywhere in this county, or adjacent county, to pick-up the MRAT and have it ready when the SWAT team is eventually action ready.



    1. Davis Progressive

      thank you for that analysis.  so the basic answer to the question is even if the mrap were in davis, the swat team couldn’t be deployed any faster than the mrap was.

    2. Miwok

      PhilColeman: Not sure what your background is, but you seem to have made an exhaustive analysis of – ONE use of the new MRAP.

      Usually people make a comparison of multiple uses or a group of uses. Since the Police have been in business about – oh- 100 years or more, there should be numbers? And if there are numbers, and the old SWAT Vehicle was used, can that be a source of more information? It is as if yesterday the Clock started without regard to anything that happened BM – Before MRAP?

      I agree with the fact we employ Police who moonlight as SWAT team, and YONET and GANGnet, and all the other Acronyms. If they got rid of the MRAP, then shouldn’t Davis PD be taken out of those assignments too? More money may be saved by the reduced training costs and Davis is the Prime Place to try this.

        1. Miwok

          Thank you, hpierce. I just wondered since he was asking David questions (or ordering David) to find out.

          Alan, thank you for your condescension. Many of us don’t live on this site.. I assume Chief Coleman doesn’t live on the scanner and report to every big event he hears either…

  3. Tia Will

    The MRAP would house a small team of people that would be able to do a dynamic entry on short notice should the need arise. “

    Darren Pytel pushed the Davis Police principle of surround and call out, as opposed to dynamic entries.”

    I am seeing an incongruity of reasoning here. The Davis Police seem to have quite reasonably moved away from the concept of dynamic entry. And yet they  feel the need to have an MRAP to move in the team that would effect a dynamic entry ?  It would seem to me that the determination of the need to make or not make a dynamic entry is not dependent upon the presence of absence of an MRAP.  The concept of getting the team “closer” to me seems rather nebulous and has been pointed out on previous threads impractical in the urban setting due to the  physical constraints  of the MRAP and due to the availability of what probably offers better protection in close quarters, the blast shield.

    1. Davis Progressive

      they have it there as a fall back if things go south in their approach.  it seems like a drastic waste of resources to use two quarter million dollar vehicles for these purposes.  but maybe that’s the best practices.

      1. DanH

        Department of Defense paid more than $733K for each of the latest Category I MRAPs. This is the MRAP vehicle sent to Davis PD. Taxpayers paid for military vehicles, not SWAT trucks. DOD does not need these vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan anymore.

        After WW2 surplus vehicles were dumped into the ocean or sent to the scrap heap unused. The MRAPs can be repurposed for use as armored SWAT vehicles.  We know that smaller armored vehicles are better suited for local police department use. Nonetheless, finding a second use for the MRAPs before they are sent to recycling is a better use of resources than sending usable vehicles directly to the scrap heap. Most MRAPs that were sent overseas will be sold there. Shipping them back to the US for recycling is not cost effective.

        1. Tia Will

          Department of Defense paid more than $733K for each of the latest Category I MRAPs”

          Perhaps it would be better still for the military to keep these vehicles themselves for repurposing for military use the next time our weapons manufacturers and those who support them decide to go on an overseas military adventure rather than allowing these companies to come up with the latest and greatest for the taxpayers to fund anew ?  Just a thought about not supporting this wasteful practice of the military or the manufacturers that supply them deciding every decade or so that we need all new gear since the old has been absorbed into the civilian population for the rare, fear driven event that may never occur.

  4. Tia Will


     maybe that’s the best practices.”

    Maybe ….. but I would sure like to see it substantiated by some data just as I do in medicine rather than just taking someone’s opinion on it, regardless of their title.

  5. tribeUSA

    The title “Rise of the Warrior Cop” is interesting for a book that offers a critique of some of the negatives of modern policing; however perhaps “Rise of the Soldier Cop” would be a better title for this critique. It seems to me that the militarization of the police can entail a creeping view of all civilians as potentially dangerous, and police officers not residing in or very near the communities that they patrol; we certainly don’t want an ‘us vs them’ attitude to prevail in police departments.

    The word ‘warrior’ has a broad and deep spiritual connotation in many cultures; and is associated with self-discipline, self-denial, rigorous tempering of body and spirit, and helping protect the weak and innocent who are caught up in violent situations instigated by others. A ‘soldier’ obeys orders unquestioningly, whereas a warrior adheres to a contract wherein a code of honor and personal integrity is a guiding force in his actions. I would like to think that police officers have a least some of this warriors spirit in a civilians sense, as contrasted with a soldier hired by ‘the man’ to obey his directives unquestioningly (not to disrespect soldiers, but soldiers are contracted to obey all (or almost all) orders unquestioningly, which may include very bad orders–by the way it seems evident many soldiers do develop a positive warriors spirit). I personally don’t understand how anyone can be a cop without developing oneself as a spiritual civilian warrior of a sort, in order to deal with the negative energy and bad behavior they are surrounded by so often; how else to reach retirement age without being burnt out and without a loss of faith in humanity in general.

  6. tribeUSA

    To expand on my previous comment, perhaps an alternative to the modern corporate technocratic approach to improving policing thru ever more gizmos and gadgets and development of ever more complex and cumbersome cookbook protocols and tactics/eqjuipment to deal with every conceivable situation; we can keep one of the best and most effective traditions of our ancestors going, and that is the development of the attributes of a spiritual warrior (in  the best sense) in our police officers (it seems evident to me that many police officers to have such attributes). But goodness gracious, this would involve invoking cultural memory and valuing of something besides techno-gizmos, and invoking a syntax that enables such silly non-materialist concepts as spirit (when of course we are only biological machines, this syntax describes all of reality); we can’t have any of that.

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