By David Stubbins
Recent events in Ferguson, Mo., and concern about militarization of the police came to Davis with the arrival of a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected armored vehicle. It was acquired by the Davis Police Department through a program run by the Defense Logistics Agency that transfers military hardware to local law enforcement agencies.
One assumes that the City Council requires departments to receive its approval prior to accepting donations, so the acquisition should not have come as a surprise. Nevertheless, there are questions that can and should be addressed to Chief Landy Black and the Davis Police Department regarding the MRAP. They include a statement about how and when the vehicle will be used, and an estimate of the costs associated with its maintenance.
The larger policy issue regarding the advisability of military campaigns that require purchasing quantities of these kinds of vehicles for troop protection is an important but separate matter.
There are pros and cons to police departments having armored vehicles, much of which turns on how and when they are used. I for one would be troubled if the department’s MRAP was “deployed” in a Picnic Day or Fourth of July parade; used as a prop at a police booth at the Farmers Market; used in a way that disrupts the peace of neighborhoods; or, most problematically, to oversee political demonstrations. Military ordnance and political protest are an unsavory mix.
Ideally, the MRAP will evolve into a piece of equipment that is out of mind because it is not a part of routine policing in Davis.
We should not lose sight of the fact that there are about 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, and they are not all the same with regard to competence, integrity, respect for the rights of citizens and the regard with which they are held by the communities they serve.
Some have a unitary response style to all situations, are lacking in flexibility and resourcefulness, and behave like an occupying army, having adopted an us-versus-them stance toward citizens. These are organizations in which militarization already has occurred, made only worse by access to military hardware.
Davis, on the other hand, has a good police department with strong, responsible and responsive leadership. It would be wrong to conclude that acquisition of a piece of military technology will cause it to lose its way.
Importantly, why does the Davis Police Department even need an armored vehicle? Simply because the it-could-never-happen-in-Davis incident could happen here, as it has in all too many communities. Tactical vehicles provide mobile cover for officers and afford a platform from which to work. Notwithstanding what is seen in movies, patrol cars do not provide much protection against bullets.
The MRAP would allow officers to get close to where they are needed, whether that be to rescue someone injured during an incident involving gunfire, allowing teams to approach under cover in a school active-shooter situation, or to be used in certain kinds of barricaded hostage confrontations.
Should such an incident ever occur in Davis, citizens would want their police officers to have the tactical equipment that would serve to most quickly bring the encounter to conclusion with the least risk to citizens and officers.
Having an armored vehicle at its disposal for use in rare, high-impact situations — and only in those situations — does not preclude police officers from having regular, cordial and respectful face-to-face interactions with the citizens they serve.
The Davis Police Department is ours. Just as officers are responsible for protecting us, we have a responsibility to do what we can to protect them.
— David Stubbins is a Davis resident.