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Davis rejected the MRAP - should it buy an ARV instead?

ARVThe following letter was submitted to the Davis City Council by email on September 23, 2019.

Dear Davis City Councilmembers,

I am writing to express my views on Item 09 of September 24th's agenda, concerning the obtainment of an Armored Rescue Vehicle.

After the huge outcry and discussion over the MRAP, I am extremely surprised to see that this is being proposed as a recommended purchase by staff. I would have thought that staff would recognize Davisites' great interest in such issues, and would have scheduled time for discussion and getting citizen input before making a recommendation. I urge you not to make a decision at the Sept 24 meeting but to instead use it to get input and discuss, allowing for further input after the meeting.

In the absence of that discussion, my own view is that the ARV is a MRAP-lite.

The article in the Davis Enterprise on this issue had to go back to 2015 to cite a situation where we needed such a vehicle, and even then, it turned out that we didn't (the shooter was already dead).

Also from the DE article: "Pytel also notes that in recent years, on numerous occasions, the "department has successfully handled protests, demonstrations and other such similar events without using the armored vehicles. Some of these events were both riotous and volatile, yet never did the department contemplate the need to deploy an armored vehicle.""

So, if we've done OK without this vehicle, why do we need it? Seems like it will either end up sitting around most of the time, or worse, end up being deployed in situations where it isn't needed. We don't need an escalation of police treating citizens like they are a threat.

I urge you to delay making a decision, or, if not, to vote against the ARV.


Roberta Millstein
Davis citizen


Nora Oldwin

Yes- Roberta, I agree with what you write here. And I wonder, too: if we can borrow Woodland's armored vehicle, why do we need to buy "our own"? Especially when we are experiencing budgetary difficulties? And I wonder, too- about the shooting of Natalie Corona. Would having this vehicle have changed anything? Is the unspoken reference to her untimely and unfortunate death an implicit guilt trip to council- to purchase this "safety mechanism"? I hope not. Militarizing the police is what's at risk here, I think. We don't need that. We should fight against that. There's a very good article about that posted on the Vanguard earlier. Worth a look if it comes through: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1805161115

Roberta L. Millstein

Thanks, Nora, for your comments and for the link. I agree with everything you've said. Natalie Corona's death was so awful and tragic, but like you I have a hard time seeing how an ARV would have changed anything. And the risk is, as you say, militarization, which would be bad for the community at large and especially for people of color.

So, at best, this is unneeded, and at worst, harmful.

Todd Edelman

I would be happy to compromise and make it more of a process by involving DHS students, UCD students of 20th Century European history, various volunteer welders and someone who is trading in their gas-powered car for an EV... and build something like the following... that it will send out an anti-fascist message whilst being used by the police (at least for parades) provides an adequate helping of Davis irony: https://www.reddit.com/r/shittytechnicals/comments/cg1npp/tiznao_republican_improvised_armored_carsspanish/

Eric Gelber

Whether such equipment should be purchased involves consideration of myriad factors, including cost, public perceptions, effectiveness, necessity, alternatives, etc. But one argument I don’t find very convincing here is “if we've done OK without this vehicle, why do we need it?” The same argument could be made about taking steps to increase security in schools, shopping malls, and other public venues. Safety measures are never needed until they are, and then it’s too late.

Equally unconvincing are arguments to the effect that this wouldn’t have changed the outcome in some particular situation (e.g., the shooting of Officer Corona). This is the same argument made by the NRA in response to calls for specific gun control measures after each mass shooting: “More thorough background checks (or an assault weapons ban) wouldn’t have prevented this shooter from obtaining an assault weapon.” That’s not an argument against background checks, a ban on assault weapons, or other measures intended to regulate access to guns. There are valid arguments to be made against the purchase of an ARV by the DPD, but I don’t think this is one of them.

Roberta L. Millstein

Eric, to take your second point first: although Nora can speak for herself, I took it that her point about Officer Corona is that some would use her death as a justification for buying this vehicle, but that it doesn't really justify buying the vehicle because it wouldn't have helped.

As for your first point, you agree that we should look at "necessity." Well, one aspect of "necessity", it seems to me, is looking at what has happened in the past. Of course, we should also look at what has happened in comparable cities, but I haven't denied that. Otherwise, how do we judge how much security we need? How do we measure the tradeoff between security's cost and other harms? It would certainly be possible to pay for a lot more security than is necessary, bringing little benefit for a lot of harm. The question is where the ARV falls here. I am not convinced that its benefits outweigh its harms, but then, a big part of my point is that this needs more discussion and shouldn't be decided tomorrow night.

Ron O

The purpose of these types of vehicles is to protect the occupants (police), so that they can respond (at less risk to themselves) to dangerous situations which threaten the public. It also provides a safe harbor for them, during such situations. Not seeing anything wrong with that goal.

Whether or not this type of vehicle is needed or justified is a different question.

Roberta L. Millstein

I don't think the questions are entirely separate. One of the issues is, how and when do police decide what a "dangerous situation" is, and how does it change their behavior and attitude when they think they are entering a "dangerous situation"?

To give one example: Let's recall what happened when a group of young people were dancing on the corner near Russell and College Park, and the police u-turned into the crowd so that people had to step back. The police acted aggressively, and the crowd responded aggressively.

Imagine what might have happened if instead the police had parked nearby and walked up and talked calmly with the dancers, urging them back to the sidewalk.

Now imagine what happens when instead of a police car, the police are driving an armored behemoth. They are now treating the situation as a dangerous one, and I venture to say that had they had an ARV (and felt compelled to use it, because such purchases must be justified with use) the situation would have been even more accelerated than it was.

The basic point is about how police view the citizens they serve and how equipment like this affects the attitudes and behaviors of those who use them, not to mention citizens attitudes about the role of the police. Here I am talking about the increased militarization of the police.

So, given all that, yes, we are then asking if the purchase of such a vehicle is needed or justified, although of course there are other components to that question, such as whether that money could be better spent for other purposes, including other police purposes.

Ron O

From what I recall, the "revelers" at the Picnic Day incident who were blocking traffic may not have known that the unmarked vehicle was a police vehicle. I suspect that they'd immediately know this, if an MRAP-type vehicle was involved, instead. (Not that I'm advocating that, as I agree that a less-aggressive approach might have worked better.) But, if they reacted "aggressively", knowing that police officers were involved, I suspect that the legal outcome may have been much different. Even if they didn't "like" how they were approached.

Some might phrase the question as to how much a police officer's life is "worth". (Not me, as I don't think it's that simple.)

As usual, I suspect that Davis does not have to "re-invent" the wheel for every single decision it makes, even though it seems that this is the underlying assumption, at times. Other communities are likely asking themselves the same type of questions.

One might also compare the cost with a "regular" police vehicle, assuming there's some overlap in usage and capabilities.

For one thing, I'd explore whether or not the MRAP in Woodland (that Davis declined) is intended to serve more than that city, alone. Perhaps Davis might consider contributing toward some of the associated costs for that, instead of purchasing its own vehicle.

Roberta L. Millstein

I agree with pretty much everything you say here, Ron. There were indeed (at least) two problematic components to the way that the "Picnic Day Incident" was handled. Yes, having an unmarked vehicle was part of the problem, but so was the aggressive approach. It sounds like you agree with that.

I agree that we also need to consider costs and whether Woodland's MRAP, which I believe we can call on if we "need" it, isn't already serving the intended purpose.

Ron O

Regarding the Picnic Day revelers, I seem to recall a report that ammunition was found on one of them, when arrested. Not sure what to think of that.

In general, treating others with respect and courtesy is the best approach - especially when there's no apparent/extreme danger. Easier and safer for all.

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