Vanguard Commentary: Council Needs to Make Tough Call on MRAP

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

While it is not agendized for tonight’s city council meeting, perhaps the most watched decision will be what the council decides to do about the MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle). Last fall, a very divided council voted 3-2 to send the MRAP back – it turns out that meant sending it to Woodland and it turns out that meant that at the first sign of “trouble” the MRAP was right back in Davis.

While the council did not ban the MRAP from ever returning to Davis, it seems reasonable to conclude that is not quite what the three members of council had in mind. As many have rightly pointed out, it’s a bit hypocritical to send the MRAP out of town because it is not a good fit for our community, only to have it used at the convenience of the Davis Police.

The local paper has turned up the heat and decided to make this personal against the council majority. Last Friday they wrote, “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… 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.”

The community deserves better than such cynical attacks against the city council majority who had to make a very tough but conscientious decision that the MRAP did not best serve the community.

However, it is clear now that the center does not hold.

Given the fervor of the Davis Police’s request for the MRAP, the steps that they took to obtain it without consulting council, and the steps that they took to utilize the vehicle also without consulting council, we might have expected that this was a long-term desire that the Davis Police had asked for over the years, but were thwarted by budget realities.

However, the Vanguard learned over the weekend that, at least since 2011, the topic had never come up with the city manager or city council.

Adding fuel to the fire, last November during a community discussion, Assistant Police Chief Darren Pytel acknowledged that he didn’t think the MRAP would fly with the Davis community. However, he became convinced of its need when discussing the situation with other officers on the command team.

Even on Friday, it became clear that the MRAP while available and affordable, was not the vehicle that the Davis Police needed.

Darren Pytel stressed that it does not have to be an MRAP. He said, “We understand the issue on MRAP.” He added, “We also know what it’s like to be using other types of vehicles… there are real advantages to having a more civilian modeled vehicle, including the size.”

The size and speed of an MRAP are a problem for urban use. Assistant Chief Pytel expressed concern about apartments and tight quarters in Davis.

It is likely that the MRAP would be of little use if this situation had occurred in an apartment building or a school. That is a frightful concept.

Money is always tight in this community. The idea of a less than ideal vehicle that the city can afford or utilize is a huge consideration. However, the community at the same time reacted rather strongly against the MRAP the first time the conversation came up and councilmembers have told the Vanguard in the last week that this latest incident has not produced a huge ground swell of community members asking for the decision to be reconsidered.

The council has a tough decision to make but it is one they must make.

After deciding to get rid of the MRAP, the city cannot very well ask for another one. That ship has sailed. The community can continue to rely on MRAPs from Woodland and West Sacramento for the one or two times a year when they might think they really need them.

As indicated previously, however, such a policy seems more than a little hypocritical.

Or the council can take more seriously the idea of purchasing an armored vehicle that can withstand the type of high-powered weapons, that the police feared might be inside the Glacier Drive home, that are better adapted to civilian use.

The idea is not completely comforting, however, it would represent a compromise. The literature on the militarization of the police over the last several decades coinciding with the escalation of the failed war on drugs should give people a good deal of pause that more tools and technology will make either the police or the citizens safer.

However, it is somewhat reassuring to hear Assistant Chief Darren Pytel acknowledge that the use of dynamic entries that the militarization has accompanied is not the best policy.

Mr. Pytel in his meeting with the Vanguard 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.”

Given that, then, it seems reasonable to compromise and provide the police with a vehicle they think they need to carry out such a policy.

Mr. Pytel argued that such policy requires armor. He said if you don’t have armor, you rely on the shield. He argued that you can’t have your team that will react “getting small for five hours.”

Purchasing such a vehicle will come at a steep cost and will eat up the police budget for supplies for probably a few years. The question I think we have to ask is this: is this something that is important enough to get for free but not important enough to pay for?

The council, once again, has a tough decision to make, but it is one it must make.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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 “Vanguard Commentary: Council Needs to Make Tough Call on MRAP”

  1. Tia Will

    The community can continue to rely on MRAPs from Woodland and West Sacramento for the one or two times a year when they might think they really need them.”

    it seems reasonable to compromise and provide the police with a vehicle they think they need to carry out such a policy.”

    I do not believe that there is a need to rush to judgement on police needs especially in view that this was not a need which had been put forth previously as an urgent need. Your article brings up a number of points that I don’t think have been considered previously.

    1. Do the police have a comprehensive list of the items that they believe that they need ? This would include not only equipment but also personnel to achieve maximal safety for all. It does one little good to have the best equipment available if it is rarely needed if one does not have the appropriate specialists or enough personnel. What if this noney might be better spent on more officers on the street doing community policing ? Or on more mental health professionals aligned with the police to attempt to assess and/or diffuse situations rather than having them escalate ?

    Have these alternative uses of funds been compared head to head or are they separated into different “silos” or “buckets” so that the idea simple does not occur ?

    If they do not have such lists, I would propose that they be drawn up with the pros and cons of each choice for consideration before a acquisition decision of this magnitude is made.

    2. I would agree that it would be “hypocritical” to say that it is not ok to have an MRAP in Davis only if we were going to bring one in from Woodland, if symbolism were the only objection. The problem with this thinking is that there are more than just this objection. It is very reasonable, and not hypocritical at all to look at this from a needs/ costs/ benefits ratio. Equipment sharing is done in my field all the time. It makes no sense at all to have a major piece of equipment purchased by both general surgery and by ob/gyn each whom are going to use it a couple of times a year at most. It makes far more sense to acquire one and let both departments use it even if there may be an occasional delay.

    3. I would like to see a statistical analysis of actual risk. How many times has a police officer been shot, in Davis, in Yolo County, in California, in comparable communities, in situations where an armored vehicle would potentially have saved their life if present ?  How many officers lives have been saved directly by the presence of such a vehicle ? How many civilian lives have been saved or lost by the presence of absence thereof ?  If the answers are 0 or extremely low,compared to other dangerous scenarios, is a “but what if” enough to justify this kind of expenditure ?

    It is true that I have no experience with police equipment or strategies. What I do have is experience in acquisition of of very expensive pieces of equipment. What I know is that these decisions should not be made without a thorough assessment of actual ( not hypothetical ) need and weighed against other needs. My request for a new ultrasound or MRI would not be considered without a complete statement of need as demonstrated by the number of studies that had been done within a given time frame, the number of patients projected to need that service based on current population, whether it would be more cost effective to hire that service out, or to share with another facility. I would also be expected to present data to demonstrate that other equipment or personnel would not perform the same purpose more cost effectively.

    It would seem to me that some in our community are willing to accept, with essentially no real data, the opinion that the MRAP is the best option even though some of our police do not believe this to be true. Here I am not talking about our City Council members whom I am sure have had more conversations and more in depth briefing from the police than those of us posting here.  Uncritical acceptance of the word of any group in authority and in possession of great power would seem to me to be a grave mistake.

    Again, for me the issue is where the data and evidence lead. Other issues also have importance…..but data is crucial. I simply don’t believe that we have seen that yet.

  2. zaqzaq

    The Enterprise commentary was spot on.  “Dan in a Bubble” were more concerned with the image issue than the practical reality of the situation concerning the need for such a vehicle.  He may have scored some early political points especially with his op-ed pieces and childish excitement that the issue made it into the New York Times.  You seem pretty confident that the CC did not expect DPD to use WSPD’s MRAP if needed.  I thought I saw comments that were directed to the position that we do not need one of our own and could borrow one if the situation arose.  For purely political reasons the CC will not take any public actions to either criticize the DPD’s use of the MRAP or to limit the DPD’s ability to deploy this vehicle in the future.  There are also potential civil liability issues if they were to take such a position.

    The reference to Pytel’s position that the that the MRAP wouldn’t fly in Davis appears to be directed to the image issue and political issue.  Not that such a vehicle is not needed.  This evaluation of the political reaction was correct.  It also appears that he ultimately decided that the MRAP was a piece of equipment that was needed even with the concern for public reaction.  It also appears that he thinks the Bearcat is a better fit in Davis.

    Before any money is spent on a Bearcat there should be a complete staff report comparing the Bearcat to the MRAP that covers such issues as mobility, cost, maintenance cost and tactical use issues.  Is the Bearcat so superior to the MRAP that it justifies the expenditure?  I suspect that the CC will look at this issue from a political vantage point instead of a tactical and cost analysis.  Purchasing the Bearcat allows the CC to save face (no MRAP) while still providing the police with a tactical vehicle.  The politics does not justify this expenditure.  Only an analysis that clearly shows that the Bearcat’s tactical functionality is vastly superior would justify the additional cost.  Unfortunately our CC is probably more focused on the politics and that is a sad commentary.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “The reference to Pytel’s position that the that the MRAP wouldn’t fly in Davis appears to be directed to the image issue and political issue. ”

      Correct.

    2. Davis Progressive

      “You seem pretty confident that the CC did not expect DPD to use WSPD’s MRAP if needed.  I thought I saw comments that were directed to the position that we do not need one of our own and could borrow one if the situation arose. ”

      i don’t recall such comments.  can you cite them?  it’s helpful in creating a better record rather than relying on some vague reference.

      “There are also potential civil liability issues if they were to take such a position.”

      there are also potential civil liability issues the other direction if they do allow the use of the vehicle.

      “Before any money is spent on a Bearcat there should be a complete staff report comparing the Bearcat to the MRAP that covers such issues as mobility, cost, maintenance cost and tactical use issues.”

      that’s reasonable.

      “Is the Bearcat so superior to the MRAP that it justifies the expenditure?”

      you’re asking the wrong question.  is the bearcat superior to no vehicle and borrowing the mraps that come with prolonged community discussion?

  3. SODA

    Just a question: I found it kind of odd that your interview with Chief Black and Assistant Chief Pytel mainly involved the latter and subsequent info as in this article is all from him. Why not mainly from Chief Black?

    I must say I am conflicted about the issue now, whereas I wasn’t originally…..

  4. TrueBlueDevil

    If Davis PD responded to an emergency situation without the MRAP, and an officer or officers lives were taken or seriously injured, would the city be liable?

    1. Davis Progressive

      possibly.  but the city could also be held liable if they overreacted to a situation and used the vehicle or techniques in an inappropriate manner.  while down from the peak years a few years back, the city still gets a fair amount of complaints on use of force.  for instance, a few years ago the city faced potential liability on the same street when an officer inappropriately tasered an individual.  the officer was later terminated.  in 2011, ucd had to pay about $1 million for the pepper spray incident in addition to the costs of all of the investigations.

      on the other hand, to my knowledge, dpd has not recently had an officer fatality or serious injury.

      so i think the mitigation for liability would be on less not more equipment.

    2. Alan Miller

      If Davis PD responded to an emergency situation without a nuclear rocket launcher, and an officer or officers lives were taken or seriously injured, would the city be liable?

  5. DanH

    The MRAP has left Davis. Rather than beating this dead horse into the ground it is time to move ahead. CC is listening to DPD requests for an armored vehicle. The shiny black BearCat Tactical SUV suggested as an alternative vehicle by CC member Lee is not a realistic solution. If a $240K BearCat G2 is unaffordable for Davis then there are other armored vehicle builders that can design and build a less expensive and suitable SWAT vehicle for DPD.

      1. Miwok

        In the interest of accuracy about the Bearcat, I looked up or tried to find the photo Davis keeps using. Their VIP Vehicle in in no way big enough for SWAT use with gear like they wear.

        http://www.lencoarmor.com/international/bearcat-variants/vip/

        The smallest SWAT version the G2 is and strangely resembles the MRAP and may be just about as big, claims to hold 12 gear equipped officers.

        http://www.lencoarmor.com/international/bearcat-variants/g2/

        Sorry, I  cannot post photos on this..

        Four wheel Drive and more armor, including bomb squad variants just look bigger. Dan, the way I see that Armored Group site is really for carrying money.

        Of course the other scenario is the run and gun bank robber like they had in Stockton. But of course that never happens.

        1. DanH

          The BearCat pages Miwok linked show the international versions of the BearCat G2 in combat dress. If you will notice these vehicles feature mine resistant V-hulls like the MRAP which were designed to offer protection against IEDs. These are military vehicles, not law enforcement vehicles.

          This page gives a more accurate representation of the BearCat G2 as equipped for law enforcement agencies. These armored vehicles are smaller, faster and lighter than the MRAP.

          http://www.lencoarmor.com/law-enforcement/bearcat-variants/g2/

          The photo which Davis and Brett Lee provided shows a BearCat Tactical SUV, an armored limo designed for VIPs, diplomats and Saudi princes. You will see it here.
          http://www.lencoarmor.com/law-enforcement/bearcat-variants/tactical-suv/

    1. hpierce

      Or, the CC can decide no MRAP, no additional “armor”.  If what exists, fails, no need to replace, is another thing the CC could decide.

      1. DanH

        CC could decide not buy an armored vehicle of any type and rely on shared MRAPs from Woodland and West Sac if needed. Being a good neighbors works better if all neighbors share. Davis could add a smaller, well-armored vehicle to the Yolo County mix. That would be a better choice for a local Davis vehicle and would contribute to a more versatile shared armored vehicle pool than a set of three MRAPS alone.

  6. Don Shor

     The community can continue to rely on MRAPs from Woodland and West Sacramento for the one or two times a year when they might think they really need them. As indicated previously, however, such a policy seems more than a little hypocritical….The council, once again, has a tough decision to make, but it is one it must make.

    The council doesn’t have to make any decision. The council already decided. The police chief has the option of using equipment from neighboring agencies on rare occasions if they see fit. If somebody feels that this is hypocritical, the council can offer to share the costs. But as I’ve said before, I don’t think costs are shared between agencies in the other instances where specialized personnel or equipment are borrowed.

          1. Don Shor

            They don’t have to respond to being “pushed.” They don’t have to revisit their decision. No action is a form of action. The prior decision can stand, and the police can use their judgment about what to call in under unusual circumstances.

  7. Alan Miller

    As I said in a MRAP discussion last week, this is the worst possible outcome for the community, as it leaves the issue unresolved, because:

    We continue to have the MRAP deployed in our community, which the anti-MRAP crowd hates; and,

    We now have a MRAP that will be deployed, but with considerable delay, which the pro-MRAP crowd hates.

    Thus, no one is satisfied, and the debate will rage on.

    Therefore, the council will have to make a decision on this.

    1. Don Shor

      The council has made a decision on this. It’s a compromise. By definition, those tend to be unsatisfactory to strong partisans on either side. That doesn’t mean it’s unacceptable. If an MRAP is deemed necessary by the police on a regular basis, it might need to be revisited. How many shooting incidents have we had in Davis? How often? The police chief might well decide that money could be better spent on other forms of protective gear or equipment. Much of that decision is probably within his own purview without any need for council oversight.

      1. Frankly

        Mediator: “So, here we need to make a decision.  Let’s start with option A.”

        Hypersensitive Davisite: “I don’t like it.”

        Mediator: “Why don’t you like plan A.”

        Hypersensitive Davisite: “I just feel that way.  I don’t like what it symbolizes.”

        Mediator: “But it is free, and the experts that requested it and plan to use it claim it is a good choice.”

        Hypersensitive Davisite: “I don’t care.  I don’t trust them.  I say they don’t need it.  And my feelings are more important than their request and claim.”

        Mediator: “Ok then, let’s go with option B… we will borrow it when needed from other communities.”

        Hypersensitive Davisite: “I feel better about that.  Ok, let’s do that.”

         

         

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