By Melanie Johnson
DAVIS, CA – On Monday night, the Davis Police Accountability Commission (PAC) discussed a military equipment ordinance pursuant to AB 481 introduced by City Council on Apr. 19. As described in the PAC meeting agenda, the ordinance is intended “to provide a process to allow use for specific types of equipment defined as military equipment” by the city.
The PAC resolved to recommend that City Council obtain usage information regarding this equipment so that the commission can make an informed response to this ordinance and its implications at a future date.
PAC Chair Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald opened the discussion by describing the overwhelming response to a previous “attempt to bring military-style vehicles to Davis,” in which “the public was very involved and very passionate.”
Accordingly, Escamilla-Greenwald stated that “We want to give the public an opportunity to give their input on this annually” and “make sure that there is a transparent process.”
City Manager Kelly Stachowicz explained that “the ordinance identifies the pieces of equipment that the city currently has that meet the definition of military equipment that has been laid out by the state and then acknowledges what we’ve got.”
According to Stachowicz, “if they pass the ordinance, then the council is getting permission to both possess and then also use those pieces of equipment [presently in the city’s inventory].”
She added, “There’s a process by which if the city wishes to obtain additional equipment, something different, that it would have to go through a public process in order to seek permission to have and then use that kind of equipment.”
Stachowicz also referenced an annual review process implicit in the ordinance, requiring the city to “explain what we used, how we used [it], what came of it, in order to continue to have the permission to utilize those pieces of equipment.”
Commissioner Morgan Poindexter shared her disagreement with the ordinance’s allowance of the city’s present baseline quantity of military equipment.
She stated, “It would make sense to me that if you’re creating a ‘floor,’ . . . that level of equipment would be necessary for the functioning of our city and not anything more.”
She emphasized that, “since that’s the baseline for the legislation, then it would be really important to get that baseline correct.”
Poindexter posed an example of how acceptance of the city’s present inventory is impractical. She explained, “If I happen to have ten tanks but I never use any tanks,” the ordinance would not take that into account. Rather, Poindexter argued that the city would be “starting out the law with, ‘Okay, well we’ve agreed that ten tanks is great. You’ve got to ask if you want eleven, but ten is fine.’”
However, Mayor Gloria Partida sought to remind the commission of the worst-case scenario some of these equipment items are intended for.
She stated, “I think that one of the challenges with this particular piece of legislation is that if you were in the middle of a situation where you needed . . . [a] robot, for instance, and you said, ‘Well, we haven’t used that robot in ten years so let’s take that robot off the list,’ . . . [the city] would not be able to use that unless the council was called together to vote and say, ‘Okay, we are going to approve that,’ and in the meantime it’s been hours that someone has been holed up . . . somewhere.”
Mayor Partida explained that this equipment is not intended for regular use, but rather serves as “something that you have at the ready” in training or emergency cases.
Commissioner Don Sherman expressed the PAC’s need for additional clarification on their role with regard to the ordinance, stating, “I think this is a particularly difficult issue for a Police Accountability Commission. We don’t have the expertise.”
He added, “I have a very uncomfortable feeling about this entire process; what our obligations are, what our opportunities are, and what the risks are.”
Commissioner John Myers suggested that the commission’s hesitancy in responding to this issue could stem from the language used to describe the equipment.
He explained, “One of the problems with this is [that] the word military is misleading and misused . . . I think it should be a matter of record, so that the public is not misled, that we’re not talking about tanks here.”
He continued, “We’re talking about a statutory definition of military, which in many respects, as the [Davis police] chief said when he made his appearance before the City Council, many of these things are not used by the military at all. They’re purely for law enforcement personnel.”
Myers concluded that “It seems to me this is a thoughtful ordinance that we should express our support for whether we agree or disagree with some of the individual items on it, so that our police department can keep what it has.”
However, Commissioner Poindexter maintained that the commission should not support this ordinance without further information on the “logic behind why we need each one of these items.”
She elaborated, “I think that that would be a helpful contribution from this commission, that . . . before the ordinance is passed, we would like City Council to consider what the usage of these items is as opposed to kind of punting that down the road to next year.”
Along these lines, the PAC voted unanimously to recommend that the City Council obtain usage information on these equipment items before they take further action.