The Davis Police Department recently unveiled its newly acquired military surplus vehicle, the MRAP, which it planned to use during certain SWAT team situations. City leaders want to send it back. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

Crime, Fire + Courts

New Davis police vehicle revs up militarization concerns

By From page A1 | August 21, 2014

The Davis Police Department has acquired a 20-ton armored military vehicle for use in active-shooter and other dangerous situations, though some are questioning the appropriateness of deploying it in a community setting.

Police took possession of the $689,000 Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle (MRAP for short) in early August under the U.S. Department of Defense’s excess property program, which provides military equipment no longer in use to civilian law-enforcement agencies free of charge.

The only cost to the city was $6,000 to ship the vehicle from Colorado to Davis, and the Police Department has eliminated an existing fleet vehicle to fund the MRAP’s maintenance, Assistant Police Chief Darren Pytel said.

Designed for battlefield use — primarily to deploy troops in Afghanistan — MRAPs are imposing, to say the least, with heavily armored exteriors equipped to withstand explosive devices and high-caliber weaponry.

“There’s no equivalent in the law-enforcement world,” Pytel said, and existing vehicles cannot be equipped to replicate the MRAP’s protective features.

But some say it’s a sign of the continued militarization of the country’s police forces, a controversy that flared recently when officers donned military-grade equipment to confront activists protesting the fatal police shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Mo.

“I can’t imagine why Davis needs a tank,” said Mayor Dan Wolk, noting that numerous citizens have expressed concern about the acquisition. “It’s in a city garage and I hope it stays there.”

Pytel said residents can rest assured the MRAP won’t be out making routine patrols. Its intended use is for certain SWAT team callouts that pose significant threats to officer and civilian safety.

“We are very much aware of the militarization issue,” Pytel said, adding that his agency is still in the process of creating a policy as to when and how the MRAP would be deployed.

He said the most likely situations would be “where there’s live fire, or we have information that people are going to have weapons.”

The MRAP has a rapid deployment hatch at its rear, which allows officers to exit and seal the vehicle quickly, Pytel said. The hatch also can be useful for extracting hostages or wounded victims from a dangerous scene.

“Unfortunately, these types of situations are occurring more and more frequently, and we want to be prepared to go in and deal with this kind of thing,” Pytel said. “When you need one (a protective vehicle), you need one very, very quickly.”

Extensive training would be required of all SWAT team personnel, and the vehicle would not be deployed until all members are fully versed in its proper use.

Pytel said the West Sacramento Police Department, with which Davis police operates a joint SWAT team, has an existing BearCat armored vehicle, but it’s smaller and has a history of mechanical problems, including breakdowns during incident callouts.

This is not the first time Davis police have obtained free military equipment under the excess property program. Since 1995, the agency also has received various weapons, computer equipment, helmets and binoculars, Pytel said.

— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene

Lauren Keene

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