By Cherie Goodenough
Item 16 on the Consent Agenda of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, February 21:
Authorize the Sheriff’s Office to apply for certification to participate in the Law Enforcement Support Office Program which allows local law enforcement agencies to access, request and acquire excess equipment from the Department of Defense; and consent to the Sheriff’s Department receiving a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, if awarded, through this program. (No general fund impact) (Prieto).
Late afternoon last Thursday, the Yolo County Sheriff’s office added the above item to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors meeting agenda. The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (MRAP) it mentions is the vehicle pictured above. It would be the third such vehicle available for deployment locally, as both the Woodland and West Sacramento Police Departments already have one. The Board should vote No on this vehicle, and here’s why:
The militarization of police sends a symbolic message to citizens of the divide between them and law enforcement. With our communities already on edge with the recent ICE raids in southern CA – the Washington Post is reporting today on a new plan by the administration that includes deputizing local forces for immigration enforcement – and with a widespread, engaged citizenry regularly exercising their right to peaceful protest, the signal from law enforcement should be one of engagement, not armament.
Law enforcement will use the tools it has, which unfortunately often results in escalation. Standing Rock, Ferguson and Baltimore stand out as recent examples where, agree or disagree with the politics of the movements, the police have responded with extreme aggression, surely in response to what they perceived the threat to be. But here in Yolo County we need to look no further than the use of military grade pepper spray on a bunch of kneeling students at UC Davis to see the risks inherent in arming our police as if they are an offensive force. Did any of the officers involved in that incident wake up that morning and think, “Today is the day I finally get to use the pepper spray!” Of course not.
A leading reason for the misuse of a militarized police force is the lack of oversight that often accompanies the acquisition of surplus military equipment. What is true nationally is true with the Yolo County Sheriff. While Sheriff Prieto says the MRAP would not be used for crowd control, the list of examples listed for reasons to deploy is vague, and there has been no plan for oversight and deployment made public. When does a demonstration at the airport become a “critical incident” that would bring out the MRAP? The presence of these vehicles in our community presents a risk to public safety.
It is conceivable that an argument could be made to tolerate this militarization if there were a compelling public or officer safety need. There have been two Yolo County Sheriff officers killed in the line of duty since 1943, and neither would have been prevented by an MRAP. Recent flooding demonstrates a need for specialized, all-terrain vehicles for response, but vehicles specifically suited for this purpose are available through the same Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) program that would bring the MRAP, and don’t have a gun turret. Sheriff Prieto himself angered concealed carry advocates when he said applicants need to “provide us with a reasonable need for it.” Surely the Sheriff’s department should be held to the same standard.
Cherie Goodenough is a systems engineer and sole proprietor of Crux Consulting Solutions. She is a Woodland resident, who has also lived in Davis and Capay.