It has been five years since the last time the Davis Police Department attempted to acquire an armored rescue vehicle (ARV). However, in the aftermath of Ferguson and concerns about the militarization of police, large segments of the community were outraged by the acquisition and the council returned it.
There are differences between then and now. Current ordinances require the police to come to the city before the acquisition. Moreover, unlike the 2015 MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle) – that the council returned twice – the current proposed vehicle is not free.
The one-time cost for the vehicle is $130,000 plus tax. If purchased, “staff is recommending utilization of public safety impact fees for the acquisition of the vehicle. Ongoing maintenance and replacement costs will be incorporated into the annual department operating budget.”
When the council returned the MRAP, they asked staff to return with more information about cost and need.
Writes staff, “Although the need for an ARV has not waned, staff hasn’t returned until now because there have been other budgetary priorities. Since that time, the cost of the vehicle has decreased and there has been a change in vehicle design that adds further utility.”
In addition now to a much lower cost, the proposed ARV looks “entirely different” from the previously acquired MRAP.
Writes Chief Pytel in the staff report: “In fact, the average person looking at the van would not know of the armor capabilities. Because it is a Ford Transit Van, it looks like many vehicles commonly used by parcel delivery companies. The same style van, lacking armor, is seen all around Davis on a daily basis.”
Chief Pytel back in 2014 acknowledged that he did not think the community would be accepting of the MRAP, but argued at the council meeting and several community meetings for its need.
Back in 2014, Chief Pytel (who was assistant chief at the time) argued that the need was “defensive.” He said, “It has armor protection so you can move officers into an environment where firearms are present, and you don’t have to worry about getting hit. The MRAP will actually take care of all the rifles we encounter.
“Right after we got it, Ferguson happened,” he said.
In the staff report, he argues: “ARV use by police departments is not new, but they have been controversial due to concerns about the intended use of these vehicles. Unfortunately, some law enforcement agencies have used the vehicles in situations that even other police professionals, including here, have questioned.”
The concerns about “militarization of the police” during Ferguson and other events “has contributed to the fear and concerns expressed by some in those communities and here in Davis as well.”
Chief Pytel continues to defend the need for a properly used ARV: “The Davis Police Department is not, and should never be seen as ‘an occupying force’ to any portion of the community that we serve. The Police Department is, however, charged with the responsibility to have the capabilities to safely and effectively deal with situations that could be reasonably foreseen that threaten both life and property. This includes having and using armor and ballistic protection when necessary.”
He adds: “It is unfortunate that some of the equipment necessary to meet that obligation carries labels that sound like military equipment, such as an ‘armored vehicle.’ With that being said, having the equipment does not mean that the Davis Police Department is going to take any posture differently than we have before.”
The chief continues to argue that the ARV is “not a tank” and notes, “The ballistic protection offered by an ARV makes it the perfect platform to perform rescues of victims and potential victims during active-shooter incidents, and to more safely deliver officers into an active-shooter incidents, barricaded hostage crises, and/or other environments involving armed offenders.”
In October 2014, the council voted 3-2 to return the MRAP, but two of the most outspoken critics of the vehicle – Dan Wolk and Robb Davis – are no longer on the council.
For Brett Lee, then a councilmember and now the mayor, he argued, “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.”
His argument did not win that day, however.
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.
“Fundamentally I don’t think the vehicle, the MRAP, is adapted to our situation,” he continued. “It does one thing well, it protects people inside.” Citing military literature, he argued, “There’s a lot of disagreement about the value of this vehicle.
“I believe very personally that we need to create a very clear line of separation between military and police,” he stated. He reiterated his trust and appreciation for the local police, but added, “I said it will hurt (that trust), it will, if we bring military equipment in.”
The question for the council is whether this equipment, which looks nothing like anything military, will be sufficient for the council and community.
—David M. Greenwald reporting