Reading the coverage in the local paper, I am a bit appalled, even after nearly nine years of doing the Vanguard, at the lack of critical analysis of last week’s incident. There are a lot of tough questions that still need to be asked about this. Yesterday we had a long discussion of the use of the MRAP, but these questions are really not limited to the MRAP alone.
The Davis Enterprise – not surprisingly ‒ gives “cheers” all around to the incident and its handling.
The editor writes: “Cheers to the Woodland and West Sacramento police departments for lending us their MRAP vehicles during last week’s shooting incident. The mutual-assistance agreements our city has with our neighbors really came in handy. Under different circumstances, we might have been left to count the cost of the political point-scoring that led the Davis City Council to reject a military surplus vehicle of our own.”
That is really an appalling comment that denigrates three councilmembers who had serious concerns about the need and application of the MRAP. It also dodges a question that we posed yesterday – whether it was appropriate to bring in not one, but two MRAPs, following the 3-2 vote by council – twice last fall – where there were expressed serious misgivings about its use in this community.
But it gets worse.
The Enterprise writes, “There are military-grade threats out there that demand a military-grade response. “
The Enterprise is out of step here, not only with community discourse and sentiment, but national ones too.
Last June, an ACLU report “focused on more than 800 SWAT raids conducted by law enforcement agencies in 20 states and on the agencies’ acquisition of military weaponry, vehicles, and equipment.
“We found that police overwhelmingly use SWAT raids not for extreme emergencies like hostage situations but to carry out such basic police work as serving warrants or searching for a small amount of drugs,” said Kara Dansky, Senior Counsel with the ACLU’s Center for Justice. “Carried out by ten or more officers armed with assault rifles, flashbang grenades, and battering rams, these paramilitary raids disproportionately impacted people of color, sending the clear message that the families being raided are the enemy. This unnecessary violence causes property damage, injury, and death.”
The report “documents multiple tragedies caused by police carrying out needless SWAT raids, including a 26-year-old mother shot with her child in her arms and a 19-month-old baby critically injured when a flashbang grenade landed in his crib.”
In Radley Balko’s 2013 book, The Rise of thee Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, he cites a February 2010 incident in Columbia, Missouri, where “the police department’s SWAT team served a drug warrant at the home of Jonathan Whitworth, his wife, and their seven-year-old son. Police claimed that eight days earlier they had received a tip from a confidential informant that Whitworth had a large supply of marijuana in his home. They then conducted a trash pull, which turned up marijuana ‘residue’ in the family’s garbage.
“That was the basis for a violent, nighttime, forced-entry raid on the couple’s home. The cops stormed in screaming, swearing, and firing their weapons, and within seconds of breaking down the door they intentionally shot and killed one of the family’s dogs, a pit bull. At least one bullet ricocheted and struck the family’s pet corgi. The wounded dogs whimpered in agony. Upon learning that the police had killed one of his pets, Whitworth burst into tears.
“The Columbia Police Department SWAT team recorded many of its drug raids for training purposes, including this one. After battling with the police over its release, a local newspaper was finally able to get the video through state open records laws and posted it to the Internet. It quickly went viral, climbing to over one million YouTube views within a week. People were outraged. The Columbia Police Department was swamped with phone calls and emails, and its officers were condemned, cursed, and scolded.”
These are the consequences for what the Enterprise is cavalierly arguing are “military-grade threats out there that demand a military-grade response.” Have they weighed the downside risks of the militarization of police before pushing forward with this viewpoint, or are they simply acting in a knee-jerk reflexive fashion to an incident that at least outwardly seems to have proceeded without huge drawbacks?
They double-down on this with a cynical and unsubstantiated attack on Robb Davis, Dan Wolk and Lucas Frerichs, stating, “Whatever else comes out of this tragedy, we hope our representatives have learned that prioritizing Davis’ image over the safety of its citizens and, especially, its police officers is a bad idea.”
In so doing, they disparage much of the community, as well, who have concerns about the militarization of the police and the fit of this vehicle in our community.
The Enterprise forgets – largely because they didn’t bother to cover it – that the Davis Police Department is fallible. It was not long ago a raid on Royal Oak – where this issue was raised when armored vehicles failed – relied on a search warrant where the officer screwed up the address.
Fortunately, the officer was involved in the raid and led the SWAT response to the correct location, but imagine had that not occurred and the SWAT raided some poor retired couple’s home, ransacked it, only to realize that they had raided the wrong address. But the Enterprise does not consider the downside of the policies they seem to blindly support.
The Enterprise continues: “Cheers to the Davis Police Department’s response to the incident. Our local cops handled what could have been an immensely dangerous situation coolly and professionally. Their priorities were to ensure the safety of everyone around the scene and to end the threat as efficiently as possible.”
They then continue, “Their use of technology was especially noteworthy, from identifying the suspect through social media to — once those out-of-town MRAPS were in place — sending in a robot to break down the door of the dwelling. It was a sterling job, all around.”
Perhaps, but identifying the suspect through social media has become almost routine. Over the last five years, police and investigators have become adept at using social media as part of their evidence against defendants in court.
In this case, their use of social media perhaps led them to deploy the MRAP in the first place. A thin reed to begin with, that suggested there might possibly be assault weapons in the possession of the assailant. It turns out no such weapon was found and this discovery ended up prolonging the event. To what end? That remains an open question unexplored in the congratulatory column by the local paper.
—David M. Greenwald reporting