The Davis Police Department (DPD) held an open dialogue on Nov. 13, in the Davis Senior Center to discuss the June 2014 acquisition of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (MRAP) from the federal government. With over nearly 60 people including city council members, the DPD and the general public, the event aimed to conduct a dialogue with different groups within the community.
To begin the dialogue, participants were told to write one word on a piece of paper to be posted around the room. Several words posted include “militarization,” “overkill,” “unity” and “fear”. One attendee expressed her concern for the lack of information and communication between the community, council and police prior to the acquisition of MRAP. Many attendants questioned the appropriateness of an armored vehicle for Davis. One of the posted papers read, “MRAP [is not an] image of what Davis needs.”
Assistant Chief of the DPD Darren Pytel explained the benefits of the acquisition, which included insertion into high-threat environment, officer protection, higher leverage in negotiations and exceptionally low cost.
“It has armored protections so you can move officers into an environment where firearms are present, and you don’t have to worry about them [getting] hit. It would handle any rifles we’ve encountered, and also explosive devices… we [would] have [better] ability to negotiate,” Pytel said.
According to Pytel, alternative vehicles would cost between $175,000 to $400,000, compared to the acquisition of MRAP which was “virtually free” as it is the result of a military surplus program. Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis explains that the acquisition would have had unforeseen costs that were not discussed at the meeting.
“A lot of people have focused on the fact that it is ‘free’; that’s absolutely not true. There is significant repair cost, [it is] extremely expensive to operate, and so to suggest that [the MRAP] is free is misleading,” Davis said.
In October, city council voted to return the MRAP to the federal government in light of citizens’ negative reactions. Chief of DPD Landy Black, gave an example of the public reactions from the discussion.
“One of the things I’ve heard a couple of times… people talk about the idea that MRAP or devices like that would inspire people to commit crime… the idea that this [MRAP] would cause somebody who would otherwise be a peaceful surrender and sees it as a challenge and would start shooting instead of surrendering,” Black said.
To emphasize the rationale for owning the MRAP, the DPD presented crime statistics showing an increase by 105 percent in felony arrests, 163 percent in drug related arrests and 27 percent in robberies in Yolo County since 2010.
Because of this, some attendees felt that more considerations should be taken before returning the MRAP.
“I think this is not a bad equipment, it can serve us in many ways…why would we send it back?” said Carolyn Pfanner, a community member.
Others believed that the general public should trust the judgment of the DPD.
“We just need to trust and stay in our lane… trust expertise,” said Dezaree Finch, a community member.
Additionally, other attendants including Davis, believed that returning the MRAP would be more conducive to promoting safety and trust in Davis.
“Questions that I [ask] include: Do we need it? What does it do to trust? There is real concern on how it [will be] used [and existence of] potential misuse. How adaptive is it?….The U.S. military is in the process of dumping these vehicles. I don’t think they have any intention to really support their [MRAP] maintenance. I think it’s a bad partnership,” Davis said.
The majority of attendees expressed their desire for future open dialogues between the DPD and the community on impactful decisions such as the MRAP acquisition. Some stressed the importance of greater attendance in these talks. Future dialogues will be held around January, according to Black.
“I think this is really important to enhance the community and having the kind of community policing that the community wants. This is what is needed to make that happen,” said Judith MacBrine, community member and facilitator of this event.