Nine months after the MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle) issue first came up, staff is seeking council direction regarding the acquisition of a police protective vehicle (PPV). Staff makes no recommendation.
Back in October when the Davis City Council finalized their 3-2 vote to return the MRAP, the council also narrowly rejected both a friendly amendment and a substitute motion to appropriate $300,000 for a BearCat or a similarly situated civilian armored vehicle.
Councilmember Brett Lee attempted to separate the issues. “I’m not in favor of the militarization of the police,” he said. “Then there’s the question of, do the police have a legitimate need for a protective vehicle?” He would answer that question: “Based on my due diligence over the past few weeks, I personally believe that they do need a protective vehicle.”
He stated that, given the reality that he is not in favor of the militarization of the police but believes we need a protective vehicle, “We are confronted by budget realities.” All things being equal, he said, “I would choose the civilian version because it’s clearly more appropriate.”
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.
Rochelle Swanson made a substitute motion, seconded by Brett Lee, that would authorize up to $300,000 for the purpose of a BearCat. However, for one of the very few times, Interim City Manager Gene Rogers spoke up and suggested that the council examine the issue during the budget process.
“One question you would want to ask the police is what are your needs, whether it’s personnel or equipment and how would you prioritize it?” he pointed out. “I think you should be maybe be a little bit patient in terms of making an allocation tonight without having at least the grounding of the fiscal implications of doing that with respect to the budget.”
That remains an important question, as the police department – as we will report in our third installment of the police series – needs about five new officers or $750,000 additional money.
According to the staff report, a PPV may be utilized in a variety of situations. These include situations where there is an active shooter, a barricaded or armed suspect, an explosive device, and a high risk warrant service.
Staff notes, “A key component to any final acquisition would be to have a firm policy in place on when the vehicle could be deployed. Deployment would be made with the understanding that a rescue vehicle is not a replacement for existing methods of protection, such as ballistic shields and vests; it is an equipment extension for its ballistic and protection qualities.”
“The goal with any deployment is to reduce the possibility of injury or death to any person,” they write. “Policy would restrict deployment of a PPV to those situations where the utility and capability of the PPV are necessary, and the capabilities of other department vehicles/resources are insufficient for those situations. PPV policy would also preclude deployment for routine patrol activity or day-to-day operations, as well as responses to situations where no threat to public or first responder personnel exists.”
“Policy would further, and perhaps most importantly, prohibit PPV deployment at events such as peaceful First Amendment demonstrations, where violence is not threatened or observed,” staff writes.
One of the key concerns with police militarization is, of course, the nexus between police military equipment and aggressive police tactics. Critics such as Radley Balko have noted not just the rise in the number of former military equipment procured by civilian police departments, but their use in high risk, dynamic entry raids on private homes – often in cases with little evidence of actual risk to officers and the public.
In late March, the police deployed not one but two MRAPs in what turned out to be a murder-suicide. The need for the MRAP was premised, at least in part, with the identification of a high-powered weapon on the subject’s Facebook page that, in the view of the police, would penetrate the Peacekeeper and any body armor.
As he did in November, Assistant Chief Darren Pytel in an April interview 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.”
He argued that such policy requires armor. He said if you don’t have armor, you rely on the shield. That is minimal protection for dynamic entries. Armor allows what could be a two and a half minute process of clearing a home, to one where it takes about two hours for a dynamic entry. For a surround and call out, it triples the time.
He argued that you can’t have your team that will react “getting small for five hours.”
The situation also dictates the use of equipment. In this case, there was almost no cover for the police. They were on a street where an MRAP would have access. For an apartment with narrow space, an MRAP could not be used.
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.
The question that the city council will have to determine is whether the need for such armor and the need to move toward a civilian rather than a military vehicle outweighs the projected budget hit of $175,000 to $400,000 that city staff projects it will cost to acquire such a vehicle.
The other question that the Glacier Dr. incident brings up is whether one vehicle is even enough to do the kind of surround and call out operation that the Davis Police appear to support over the more aggressive dynamic entry.
—David M. Greenwald reporting