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